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Brooke Strong

Pictured are Brooke Bales with parents Matt and Krista Bales. Brooke was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia on Jan. 4 after attempting to donate blood.

What started off as a generous attempt to donate blood turned into a nightmare for a local family.

Brooke Bales, a junior at Central High School, was attempting to donate blood during a school event when she was told that her iron count was too low. She had been unable to donate blood once before because of her iron count. But last time, her iron count was at 12.4, and the cut-off for donating blood is 12.5. This year, however, her iron count was only 5.5.

This sent Brooke and her family to the doctor’s office to find out what was wrong. By the time she was admitted to the hospital, her iron count was at a dangerously low 3.6.

On Jan. 4, Brooke was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia or AML.

Leukemia is a type of cancer that starts in cells that would otherwise develop into different types of blood cells. There are several types of leukemia and most of them start in early forms in white blood cells.

Acute myeloid leukemia, specifically, starts in the bone marrow, and quickly moves into the blood as well. In cancer-free bone marrow, blood stems develop into new types of blood cells. They may develop into lymphocytes, which is a type of white blood cell. Or they may develop in myeloid cells, which are cells that can develop into red blood cells, white blood cells other than lymphocytes, or platelets. These myeloid cells are the abnormal cells in acute myeloid leukemia.

Prior to her hospitalization, Brooke lost close to 50 pounds over six months. Her number of platelets and white blood cells fluctuated continuously. While in the hospital, though, she began to gain back a bit of weight, and her platelet count began to rise.

Brooke underwent surgery to insert a central line for medication, eliminating the need for constant IVs. She also had a lumbar puncture to test her bone marrow, which came back normal. She began chemotherapy on Jan. 8.

According to her parents, Matt and Krista Bales, Brooke handled it heroically. “She’s a rock star,” Matt said. “She’s amazing and the people up here (at the hospital) are astounded at her spirit, and she is in such a great place mentally.”

Matt said that because of her age, Brooke is a high-risk case. She will go through five to six cycles of chemotherapy, which will entail her staying at the hospital for 30 days, and returning home for a week before returning to the hospital for the next cycle.

Since her time at the hospital, Brooke has received a total of 13 transfusions, eight of them red blood cell transfusions, and five of them platelet transfusions.

The family has received an outpouring of support from family, friends, and even strangers. T-shirts, bracelets, and window decals are being made that sport the hashtag for Brooke’s cause, #Brookestrong. These can all be purchased through the #Brookestrong Facebook page.

A #Brookestrong GoFundMe page has also been set up. Both Matt and Krista have been unable to work due to their daughter’s hospitalization, and the bills are adding up fast. Any bit of help would be greatly appreciated by the family.

Addressing the flood of love and support being sent to the Facebook page, Krista said, “Having your support and prayers is what is keeping the smile on Brooke’s face. So thank you for that. We love you all, and having your support helps us get through this. We know God’s got this, and so does she!”

“We love you all so much,” Matt said, “and we appreciate your amazing community. Words do no justice for how we feel. Thank you. We know that God is our rock, and Jesus is our savior. We lean on that, and that alone, and seem to find the way of light through all darkness.

“We would like to thank each and every one of you for the influx of love you all give. I can guarantee that this kid is worth it. She knows she’s a winner, and she’s going to keep on proving it.”

The T-shirts and decals proudly state the most important aspect: In this family, no one fights alone.

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Rachel Gann is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at rgann@dailyjournalonline.com.

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