Out & About: Mother Honors Son With Memorial Blood Drives for 22 Years

  • Daniel Somerville, died at age 15 on Dec. 2, 1993, after a battle with cancer. His mother, Rose Smith, started a memorial blood drive in honor of his memory that has continued for 22 years. (Courtesy of Rose Smith)

Valley News Calendar Editor
Saturday, December 01, 2018

Norwich — Rose Smith has spent the past 22 years immersed in the phrase “pay it forward.”

Smith’s son, Daniel Somerville, died at age 15 on Dec. 2, 1993, after a battle with cancer. Since then, the longtime Norwich (and now Lebanon) resident has worked hard to keep Daniel’s memory alive by hosting multiple blood drives every year. As part of his treatment, Daniel received blood donations.

“All it really takes is a family like ours to totally understand what blood products do at a time of sickness,” Smith said.

The Daniel Somerville Memorial Blood Drive started in 1996 as an annual event. Over the years, Smith began hosting four blood drives a year, which then became six. Smith said it’s the longest-running memorial blood drive in Vermont.

“For me as his mom, there really wasn’t a lot I could do to help fight the cancer other than be there of course and keep everyone as well and as healthy as we could be,” Smith said. “He medically needed something I was unable to give as his mom. … I couldn’t help prevent his death but I will do everything I can to make sure he’s never forgotten.”

The blood drives are made possible by volunteers who do everything from helping organize the drive to preparing food for blood donors to donating blood themselves.

“I couldn’t do it without amazing volunteers,” Smith said. “It’s a big project.”

Bunny Cook is one of those volunteers. She used to live two houses away from where Daniel grew up in Norwich.

“I was around when Daniel was a baby,” she said. While she began donating blood when she was 18, being a donor took on new meaning at the time Daniel got sick. “It seemed like the thing to do.”

In addition to donating blood, Cook also contributes food to give to donors.

“I usually make desserts like cookies or cupcakes of some sort,” Cook said. “Anything to say ‘thank you’ to the donors.”

The upcoming blood drive — to be held on Thursday from noon-6 p.m. at Tracy Hall — is part of the annual 19 Days of Norwich. The December blood drive tends to attract the most donors, Smith said. Since the memorial blood drive began, it’s contributed just shy of 4,300 pints to the Red Cross.

“I can’t believe that people don’t donate if they’re able to,” Cook said. “It’s such a necessity and it’s not something you can plant a seed and grow for yourself. Somebody’s got to donate it.”

Those regular donations are much-appreciated by the nonprofit organization, which struggles to reach donors during the holiday season.

“It is one of the most difficult times of the year for the Red Cross to maintain an adequate blood supply,” said Mary Brant, communications manager for the Northern New England division of the American Red Cross. Ideally, the Red Cross wants to have a five-day supply of blood on hand. “Right now, we are below a three-day supply of blood on hand, and that’s not a comfortable place to be.”

Smith said that, while there are a number of people who contribute blood multiple times of year, recruiting new donors can be a struggle.

“Sadly there’s been quite a decline in blood donors,” she said, adding that it can be a challenge to get 50 pints sometimes. Each person can donate about a pint of blood at a time. “For years, we would get 60-70 pints at every drive when we were doing it twice a year or four times a year.”

Brant said that people have a misconception that if they’re on medication, have a tattoo or have traveled outside the country, they cannot be a donor.

“Those things don’t necessarily preclude you from donating blood,” she said.

The best thing to do is to call 800-733-2767 or visit redcrossblood.org to figure out if you can donate.

“They have to rely on volunteers. They’re not paying people to give blood,” Smith said of the Red Cross. “They’re doing it out the kindness of their heart. Other than some time … you don’t have any out-of-pocket expense, yet you can truly give the gift of life.”

Memorial blood drives can add extra meaning to the experience.

“There is no other source of blood than a healthy volunteer blood donor,” Brant said. “We are so grateful to Rose for this blood drive and her desire to honor the memory of her son by helping those in need.”

And Smith is grateful to the community for helping to keep Daniel’s memory alive.

“We’re very fortunate that the blood drive has been able to continue and a lot of people have helped me make that happen,” she said. “It’s a true statement to just what happens when a town decides to collectively make a difference.”

Upcoming Blood Drives In the Upper Valley

Dec. 7: 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Holiday Inn, 485 Hotel Drive, Brownsville.

Dec. 12: 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Springfield Elks Lodge, 49 Park St., Springfield, Vt.; Noon- 5 p.m., Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, 10 Alice Peck Day Drive, Lebanon.

Dec. 13: 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Newport Health Center, 11 John Stark Highway, Newport.

Dec. 14: Noon-5 p.m., Bradford Congregational Church, 245 N. Main St., Bradford, Vt.; Noon-6 p.m., Morill Municipal Building, 2975 Dartmouth College Highway, North Haverhill.

Dec. 15: 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Gifford Medical Center, 44 S. Main St., Randolph.

Dec. 17: Noon-6 p.m., St. Mary’s Church, 1157 Route 4, Canaan.; Noon-5 p.m., Claremont Senior Center, 5 Acer Heights Road, Claremont.

Editor’s note: To sign up to donate blood at the Daniel Somerville Memorial Blood Drive or others in the Upper Valley, call 800-733-2767 or visit redcrossblood.org. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.