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'Life in a bag': Parents thank blood donors for saving their toddler's life

As Skye battled a rare leukemia frequent blood transfusions kept her strong. Her parents recently thanked the 71 blood donors who helped Skye survive.
/ Source: TODAY

For most of her short life, 2-year-old Skye Savren-McCormick has been fighting cancer. Now, the toddler is recovering today thanks to her doctors — and 71 strangers. Recently, Skye and her parents met 24 of the blood donors who gave the now happy toddler a new chance at life.

When Skye was only four months, her parents noticed tiny red spots covering her skin. After her pediatrician ordered blood tests, the results were troubling — Skye had a platelet count of 3,000, compared to a normal range between 150,000 and 400,000.

Soon after, the baby girl received her first blood and platelet transfusion.

“Without blood transfusions she wouldn’t have made it,” mom Talia Savren-McCormick told TODAY. “We used to call it life in a bag. It definitely brought her back to life.”

Only four months after she was born, Skye started having health problems. Throughout the course of her illness, blood transfusions helped her recover.Courtesy of the Savren-McCormick family

Her doctors had suspected a form of blood cancer, but it wasn't until nearly her first birthday in March 2016 that the family learned Skye had juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML) — a rare disease where bone marrow makes immature white blood cells, which grow too rapidly. This crowds healthy bone marrow from the system, leading to infections, anemia, and excessive bleeding.

As part of her treatment, Skye had frequent blood transfusions — even before doctors learned of the cancer and her need for a bone marrow transplant. Her parents knew when it was time for a new transfusion.

“She would get really pale and started sleeping a lot,” Talia said.

Skye has been cancer free for almost a year. She and her parents recently met 24 of the 71 blood donors that donated blood, which helped her recover from leukemia.Reed Hutchinson/UCLA Health

Over the course of her illness, Skye received 77 units of blood from 71 different donors.

Skye and her parents recently met 24 of her blood donors at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital. The donors are a diverse group and include people, such as 33-year-old Ana Martinez, who organizes blood donations at her office; Kazuhiro Ando, 66, who started donating after learning how much blood cancer patients need; and Matt Ruby, 20, a third year UCLA student who has been donating blood since his first year of college.

Savren-McCormick was overwhelmed by their generosity.

“For a while, she was getting platelets every day and blood transfusions two to three times a week because she was rapidly losing cells,” she said. “Thank you doesn’t begin to describe the gratitude we feel. They were a part of saving her life. We are just in awe.”

In her short life, Skye received 77 blood transfusions as she battled cancer.Courtesy of the Savren-McCormick family

Skye also received three bone marrow transplants to help her fight JMML. The invasive bone marrow extractions helped Skye beat JMML.

“She is all donor cells, which means she is cancer free,” said Savren-McCormick.

If this continues until April, Skye will celebrate a year without cancer. Her parents hope in six or eight months, the curious, sassy, happy toddler will be able to go to preschool. Right now, she can’t be around too many people because her immune system is still weakened.

“The hope is she will be able to do some kind of daycare or preschool part time and be strong and healthy,” Savren-McCormick said.

They hope Skye’s story encourages others to donate blood and bone marrow.

“It is something that does not take a lot of time,” she said. “You have the power to save a life.”