Family advocates blood, bone marrow donations to honor late son
August 31, 2012, was the day Anthony Cervone said his and his family’s lives “were changed forever.”
It was on that Friday now more than five years ago, Anthony learned from doctors at Lurie Children’s Hospital that his child with wife Rina had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
The diagnosis for Lucas Cervone came several weeks after the boy, who was just two at the time, started feeling unwell, his father said.
“It began with a cold that just wouldn’t go away,” Anthony said. “Then he lost his appetite and became lethargic. Looking back after the diagnosis he did have all the symptoms [of acute lymphoblastic leukemia].”
Rounds of chemotherapy and monthly blood transfusions enabled Lucas to recover in June 2015. However, just a few weeks later Lucas was diagnosed with a different form of leukemia.
It was at this time the Cervones connected with LifeSource and Be the Match to find a bone marrow match for Lucas. It was a complicated search because of Lucas’ half Hispanic/half Caucasian heritage, but a match was eventually found in Germany, Anthony said. Lucas underwent his bone marrow transplant in November of 2015.
While recovering from the transplant he began experiencing abdominal pain and on April 24, 2016 he was admitted to the emergency room at Lurie Children’s Hospital. Tests revealed Lucas had an incurable tumor wrapped around the pulmonary artery and pressing on his heart.
Lucas lost his courageous battle with cancer on May 1, 2016, but the Chicago boy, who as a toddler was nicknamed “Bear” by his father for his penchant to walk and sound like one, continues to serve as an inspiration to others.
Less than six weeks after their son’s passing the Cervones were invited to a LifeSource televised blood drive held at the WGN-TV Studios. Anthony shared his son’s story on live TV to help encourage people to give blood and join the Be the Match bone marrow registry.
On May 6, 2017, the inaugural blood and marrow drive in Lucas’ memory was held in Chicago. Approximately 60 units of blood were collected and more than a dozen people joined the bone marrow registry that day, Anthony said.
“Since LifeSource came into our lives in 2015 we’ve helped collect many units of blood and signed up about 250 people for the Be The Match bone marrow registry,” Anthony said. “[My wife and I] are just regular people who work to make a living. Our way of giving back because we can’t do it financially is to encourage people to give blood and be a bone marrow donor.”
The second annual drive in Lucas’ memory will occur in May of 2018, and Anthony has set lofty goals.
“I’d love to double the number of donations from last year,” he said. “I think a lot of people don’t understand how great the need is for blood. I’m trying to educate people on the importance of blood donation. People need to know they could save three lives by giving blood.”
The time since Lucas’ passing has been excruciatingly difficult for Anthony, Rina and Lucas’ half-brother Franco. It is a fact the Cervones make clear on the Facebook memorial page for Lucas they operate.
While there have been many tough times, there have also been some “amazing” days. Anthony pointed to when dozens of family and friends gathered to pay tribute to Lucas at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night event.
There was also the time in April 2017 when the family connected via email with Lucas’ bone marrow donor. Anthony said the family wanted to thank the man for his selfless act and let him know what he did will never be forgotten.
“It was a little difficult because there was a language barrier but we wanted to let him know that although Lucas did pass away it wasn’t because of a bad donor it was just because he was dealt bad cards all of his life,” Anthony said.
Many learned about Lucas in April 2016 when after his family was told his condition could not be treated they asked the public to send birthday cards to Lucas to show him how many people cared. The request was picked up by news organizations all over the globe and more than 150,000 cards were received. Some of those who penned letters to Lucas continue to write the family.
“After a year and half it still amazes us that people still take the time to send cards,” Anthony wrote to the more than 8,300 people who follow the Facebook page. “And all the way from Madrid, Spain!”
Soon preparations for the annual blood drive in Lucas’ memory will begin. This is a task Anthony plans on doing each year for the foreseeable future.
“We want to make this a long-term event,” Anthony said. “Lucas may have passed but his donor and the blood transfusions did save his life. There are many people out there who will benefit from a blood transfusion or a bone marrow match.”
Anthony encouraged all who are able to donate blood and join the bone marrow registry.
“If you can physically there is really no excuse because every time you donate you are helping people,” he said. “Think of all the accidents and tragedies where people needed blood. If it wasn’t for blood donors those people would have died. You truly are saving lives.”