Boy, 6, suffering from leukemia inspires blood drives

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MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — At 6 years old, Joshua Johnson knows he is going to be a cop. He has the hat and the badge. He has the outgoing personality and energy. He even has the handcuffs.

In November, he found out he also has childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Joshua Johnson was first hospitalized the same night he got his new police officer costume, on Halloween. Despite the perfect outfit and lure of candy, Joshua was not feeling well enough to trick-or-treat.

That's when his mom, Amanda Oliver, took him a local hospital. Doctors told Amanda her son had anemia, and by the time she had called Joshua's father, Joshua had been put on a stretcher intending to take him by ambulance to Riley Hospital.

At Riley doctors told Oliver that 98 percent of Johnson's blood was leukemia.

His bone marrow was making too many immature white blood cells, which become cancer cells. Those cells then are not able to fight infection well and leave less room for healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets, according to

Doctors didn't know how Joshua had found the energy to go to school. He hadn't missed a day. Just a few weeks before the diagnosis he had played the last football game of the season.

Now he needed a blood transfusion immediately.

"They started giving him that blood ... it was amazing," Amanda told The Star Press ( ). "After the first pint they gave him he ended up wanting to sit up, and I was going to help him because he had needed help before that. He ended up sitting up, color was in his face, it was just amazing."

The difference was so severe that Amanda nicknamed the transfusions as Joshua's "go-go juice."

Amanda said previously she knew donating blood was important, but having a child who needs blood transfusions has given her a different sense of urgency. So, when the American Red Cross offered to have a series of blood drives in Joshua's honor, she was completely supportive.

The drives began Monday, Feb. 9. Seven schools are participating including: Bloomfield Elementary, Pennville Elementary, Redkey Elementary, Judge Haynes Elementary, General Shanks Elementary, East Elementary and Joshua's school, Westlawn Elementary.

Most drives are held in one location at one time, said Vince Robinson, external communications manager for the American Red Cross. This one started with Westlawn and continued to grow. The blood will be donated to the Red Cross and distributed to hospitals around the country based on need.

Joshua is hoping to make it to the drive at Westlawn Elementary on Feb. 20, but he has to go to Riley that morning. It would be the first time in a while Joshua would be back in that building.

Since his immune system is so weak, he cannot return to school for at least six months and wears a mask in public. Joshua has had about 19 blood transfusions and seven platelet transfusions. He has a port and began chemotherapy. Things were going well until around the holidays, when Joshua had an allergic reaction.

"It freaked me out, I watched it," Amanda said. "His whole face swelled up, you couldn't even recognize him."

Joshua has started a new chemotherapy treatment called erwinia. Since Joshua has a difficult time with IVs, he is getting shots in his legs.

Instead of going to school, his kindergarten teacher, Sara Wolf, comes to his house a couple times a week. When Westlawn Elementary School heard about Joshua's diagnosis, they put together a panel including the principal and Wolf to decide how to keep him on track.

Wolf gives Joshua between one and four hours of instruction each week, visiting one to three times on days when he isn't at Riley. Wolf said Joshua is a great student. He hasn't lost any prior knowledge and continues to grow. Facts that ensure Joshua will be a cop one day.

"He's got it in his head and in his heart that he's going to be," Wolf said.

Wolf brought Joshua pictures of activities hanging on the classroom walls, so a section of his family room is now a replication of his classroom. He also got a tablet so he can play the class' educational games and FaceTime in.

Sitting in his place at school is a giant teddy bear, part of Riley Hospital's "Bear in a Chair" program. The class takes that bear everywhere, Wolf said, to show that they are thinking about Joshua and including him.

Amanda is also homebound, unable to return to her utilities job at F.C.C. Clutch Technology, taking care of Joshua. She is on family medical leave. Amanda is waiting for the day the doctor tells her she doesn't have stay home anymore. She misses work. She misses sending Joshua and his older sister to school, then sleeping until they come home before fixing dinner and heading to cover the third shift.

"My whole body was thrown into shock over everything," Amanda said. "Me working third shift, that did not help at all."

Joshua qualified for social security, Amanda said, which is paying rent. She also got food stamps. For the rest, the family has had help from their community, receiving donations and gifts like gas cards.

Since the diagnosis, Joshua and his family have seen an outpouring of support. At Riley his hospital room basically had a revolving door of visitors, including his principal and preschool teacher. Amanda attributes that to the small community, and she tears up every time she talks about their generosity.

The third grade class at Westlawn Elementary raised money for a "share and care" project and decided to donate it to Joshua's family. A family friend made bracelets that say "Joshua strong." Joshua's been given a couple photo albums, a blanket and a pile of cards.

The family even got to meet Matt Overturn, long snapper for the Colts. He was in Riley hosting a game the hospital puts on where patients call in the name of a song and win a prize. When Joshua's older sister, Chevelle Ruho, called in she convinced Overturn to come meet them by telling him Joshua's a big fan.

Joshua got a signed football, but doesn't really remember what they talked about. Overturn gave Amanda a horseshoe necklace.

A lot is different since October for Joshua and his family. But but none of these changes have distracted Joshua from being a cop. He still practices arresting people who come to his house. He only lost the keys to the handcuffs once, and after a lengthy scavenger hunt they turned up in his pocket.

When he stayed at Riley he brought his police hat, so the nurses began calling him "Officer Johnson." That official title was written on his dry erase board on the hospital room door.

One day he will "catch the bad guys," but until then Joshua is settling for being his mom's hero, a fact she reminds him of every day.


Information from: The Star Press,

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