Toddling through the corridors of Deaconess Medical Center, Crystal Heden is inseparable from the pump and cart of plastic IV tubes connected to her tiny chest.
Even at the tender age of 4, the youngster seems to understand that the annoying contraption is helping her fight her cancer.
She calls it her “little friend.”
Outside the hospital, Crystal has another friend, one she barely knows. This friend is a 14-year-old Valley girl who heard about the toddler’s leukemia, and decided to do more than just feel sad.
Ninth-grader Melanie Sauer is organizing a special needs blood drive for Crystal, who will require numerous blood transfusions throughout her treatment. The drive will take place Wednesday at Chester Elementary School.
Sauer has called friends, neighbors and everyone she knows. She’s handed out hundreds of flyers. She’s wants everyone to know that the Valley family needs their help.
“It’s the day before Thanksgiving and a lot of people are busy, but if they could take the time, it would make a lot of difference,” the teen said.
Every unit of blood collected at the drive will be credited toward the Heden family’s hospital bill, said Shannon Little, of the Inland Northwest Blood Center. A unit is worth $15.
Sauer’s goal is to get 100 donors for Crystal, saving them $1,500 in medical costs.
Crystal’s mom, Debbie Heden, was Sauer’s gymnastics coach at Horizon Junior High School for two years. In late September, she gathered her students together and tearfully explained she would have to resign.
Her daughter, Crystal, had been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic cancer. The little girl had just turned 4.
The two months since have passed in a blur for the Hedens, who also have two young sons.
Cancer fighting drugs have been injected into Crystal’s blood and spinal column, said her father, Mike Heden. She’s had three or four blood transfusions, about eight spinal taps and several bone marrow tests. Those tests require sticking a needle into her pelvis to draw out a marrow sample.
Crystal’s parents have to take her temperature three times a day, and if it’s slightly high, they rush her to the hospital. It’s happened four times since September, including this week, Heden said.
The child’s body can no longer fight even minor illnesses.
“The hospital has become her second home,” her father said. “But she still has her little personality. She’s still bubbly. I think if everything goes well, she’s going to be a nurse or a doctor someday.”
Crystal faces a long, difficult road ahead, but her doctors give her a very good chance of surviving the cancer.
It helps, her father said, to know the community is thinking about them.
“It’s not often you find someone taking the time, like Melanie is,” Heden said. “I can’t say enough in appreciation.”
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: HELPING THE HEDENS The blood drive to benefit the family of 4-year-old cancer patient Crystal Heden will run from noon to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Chester Elementary School, 3525 S. Pines. Blood center officials said donors can save themselves some time on Wednesday by signing up in advance. To make an appointment, call 922-2760.