When 5-year-old Matthew Fernandez’s leukemia diagnosis because public in April, Michele Ramos knew she had to do more than just help the family with groceries.
“You cannot help but look your children in the eyes and wonder if this could have been them,” Ramos said. “We’re very, very lucky to have two healthy children.”
Ramos, a native of Austria who has lived in Burbank for 14 years, recalled the message she received from Matthew’s mom, Ana Fernandez.
“I remember getting this phone call on April 3,” Ramos said. “She left me a message, she was very upset, and I called her back and she told me Matthew was diagnosed with leukemia. I felt so helpless — I wanted to do something.”
Ana Fernandez quit her job as a licensed vocational nurse to provide full-time care for Matthew. Fernandez also has a seven-year-old boy, Andy, who will start second grade at Saint Finbar’s Catholic Church this fall.
The families from the church’s pre-school began dropping off groceries, giving Andy rides home from school and scheduling play dates, Ramos said.
But Ramos wanted to do more after visiting Matthew at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
“I saw the suffering there and figured, ‘I gotta do something’ — not just to help Matthew, but the other children at the hospital,” Ramos said. “I wanted to do a blood drive.”
She contacted Saint Finbar’s parish, and they agreed to let her use the community center as the site of a blood drive on Sunday. After the plans were set, news of the blood drive spread quickly.
It ran in the church bulletin and was mentioned in announcements in Mass, she said.
Ramos also asked Saint Finbar’s principal to email the flier to other schools, and she drove around to other parishes to spread the word.
Spanish-language TV station Univision scheduled a chat with Fernandez and she was interviewed on 101.9 La Nueva FM’s morning show.
An email address and Facebook page were set up. Messages left at the church office are routed to Ramos, who returns the calls.
Children’s Hospital officials will be on site Sunday to run the blood drive, which is expected to attract more than 100 donors.
“We want all types of blood,” Ramos said. “I didn't mention Matthew’s blood type because I don’t want people to say, ‘I don’t have that type’ — there are all kinds of kids that need blood.”
Raul Gonzalez, who coordinates blood drives for Children’s Hospital, said the need for diverse groups of donors remains high.
“To be able to facilitate the kids here, we need 1,200 units of blood [per month], and we’re lucky if we collect 1,000,” he said.
Fernandez knows all too well the perils of supplies falling short. She recalled one instance in which Matthew was unable to get a blood transfusion until late at night.
“I was told there was not enough blood,” Fernandez said. “That was a sign for me. That maybe God wants me to help out. You can't just buy this at the market. You have to come and donate.”
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Support Matthew Fernandez on Facebook.com, or call (818) 846-6251
8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday
Saint Finbar’s Community Center
2010 W. Olive Ave., Burbank
Who can donate blood:
Anyone who is at least 17 and weighs at least 110 pounds.
Bring a driver’s license or state-issued ID card.
Eat and hydrate before donating.