Local blood shortage inspires family to host community blood drives

After Tyler Juhl’s leukemia diagnosis in August 2020, his family has made it their mission, with the help of the University of Iowa DeGowin Blood Center, to give back through community blood drives.


Jeff Sigmund

Kari Juhl gives a thumbs up while donating blood during a blood drive that is being held for her son Tyler who is battling cancer. Friday, June, 25, 2021. (Jeff Sigmund/Daily Iowan)

Lillian Poulsen, News Reporter

A year ago, Tyler Juhl was a healthy child preparing to start school in the fall. Now, he is one of thousands of patients in need of blood during a year where hospitals across the nation are experiencing shortages.

On Aug. 27, 2020, Tyler was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia — a type of cancer that requires constant blood and platelet transfusions. Tyler’s symptoms appeared suddenly – muscle soreness, loss of energy, red dots, bruises, and pale skin – and rapidly progressed, said Tyler’s mother, Kari Juhl.

Since his diagnosis, Tyler has received treatment at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, which includes chemotherapy, regular hospital visits, and many blood and platelet transfusions, Kari Juhl said.

“Prior to Tyler’s diagnosis, we were unfamiliar with the true need for blood donors on a consistent basis,” Juhl said. “To know that we never had to worry about that supply not being there to support Tyler — every time he’s needed it, it’s been there — has been a true blessing.”

Related: Iowa blood-donation centers call for donations after canceled blood drives

Due to blood shortages across the nation, the fight against blood cancer has become even more challenging for patients like Tyler.

The American Red Cross, which supplies about 40 percent of the blood used in the nation, announced that they distributed about 75,000 more blood products than expected over the past few months.

According to America’s Blood Centers, Iowa has only a two-day supply of blood products available, meaning the state is running low and needs blood donations as soon as possible.

Donation supervisor Kerry DuBay said these shortages of blood products have made UI DeGowin Blood Center sound the alarm for donations.

DuBay said there’s been an increase in traumas and elective surgeries this summer, where group O blood — a universal group whose red cells can help all patients — is especially important.

“The increase in traumas is a pretty normal reason for a summer shortage,” DuBay said. “People are out and about in the summer even more so there are more motor vehicle accidents, boating accidents, and even some fireworks accidents.”

As the summer continues, DuBay said she wants to stress the importance of blood donations in general. She said it’s also important to recruit new donors, which the center has lacked this past year.

“The need for blood never goes away… we need an increase in donors every day, all summer long in order to help this shortage,” DuBay said. “Getting new donors to come in for the summer is really important.”

Juhl said she’s had a lot of conversations with Tyler about how he can use his experience to help advocate for other people like him.

“We truly feel like everything happens for a reason,” Juhl said. “This journey, although it can be challenging, is a way for us to do something bigger than ourselves and help more people than just Tyler.”

In an effort to give back, Tyler’s family held a blood drive in April at the Solon Community Center. According to aFacebook post on April 21, 62 people donated, which could potentially save 124 lives.

“Tyler’s story is of a child in need, and there are thousands of those stories,” Juhl said. “He is just one of thousands of children and adults at the university that are in need of blood transfusions on a consistent basis.”

On June 25 and 26, the Juhl family hosted another blood drive in Tyler’s honor. Volunteers from around the area attended “Tyler’s Tribe Blood Drive” to support Tyler’s battle against cancer.

“I saw the picture of the child — the one that has cancer — in the paper Thursday,” Iowa City resident Gayle Royar told The Daily Iowan at the event on June 25. “We’ve donated before and I told my husband we need to go, so we came here today to donate.”

Royar’s husband, Ken, also commented, “I came to the blood drive because a young man needs blood.”

No matter when or how, Juhl said she is grateful to everyone who donates.

“Blood donations are in critical need right now,” Juhl said. “Even if it’s not the ‘Tyler Tribe’s Blood Drive,’ we appreciate the fact — more than anyone truly knows — that people are willing to take the time to do something bigger than themselves, be selfless, and donate.”

Jeff Sigmund contributed to this report.

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