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YOUTH'S PLIGHT DRAMATIZES NEED FOR BLOOD

Hundreds of people donated blood to keep Bill Fox alive. More than 700 people, to be precise.

For the 17-year-old East Aurora resident, blood donations are the gift of life.

In the fourth week of every month -- and sometimes more frequently -- Bill checks into Children's Hospital for eight to 10 hours and receives four units of blood because of an extremely rare blood disorder.

That blood -- at least 700 units over his lifetime -- has to come from the arms of Western New York blood donors, some rolling up their sleeves six or seven times a year.

Since adults typically have 10 to 12 pints of blood in their bodies, that means Bill has received enough blood to replace his blood supply at least 70 times.

So as the American Red Cross continues its Great American Blood Drive this summer, seeking 16,000 units of whole blood from Western New Yorkers, it cites Bill Fox as living, breathing proof of the continual need for more blood donations.

"A lot of people who donate blood don't understand where their blood is going," said his mother, Nancy Karcher. "This is a prime example of where it's going.

"Without those donations, he wouldn't be here."

Bill -- along with his two younger brothers, Joe and Dave, and their mother -- all have the blood disorder known as Diamond Blackfan Syndrome.

Fewer than a dozen families across the nation have this affliction, characterized by an inability to produce enough red blood cells.

His brothers and mother have been in remission for years, and doctors remain hopeful that Bill's disorder -- diagnosed when he was 3 months old -- also will go into remission.

But for now, he has to go for his monthly transfusions.

"In the fourth week, I get tired and weak," Bill explained. Afterward, "I feel recharged, like a car full of gas."

Bill's not a complainer. In fact, he would rather talk about his prized 1985 Monte Carlo than about his blood disorder. But the condition does affect his lifestyle.

The monthly transfusions produce extra iron in his bloodstream. To take the drug that removes that extra iron, he is hooked up to a small pump for up to 12 hours a night, five nights a week.

That drug is given through a "mediport," a small access device implanted under the skin in his chest. To Bill, that device means no more intravenous infusions.

"Sometimes it's uncomfortable," he said. "You can't swim with it, and you try to wear baggy shirts so people don't notice it."

Bill also is more prone to infection. Serious infections already have sent him to the hospital twice this month. And he can't play contact sports.

But the East Aurora High School junior works at Burger King, drives to the mall with his friends, mows neighborhood lawns and lives a pretty normal life.

"He's had it for 17 years, and it has become part of his life," his mother said. "It's his routine. It's something that has to be done. It's not an option. He just fits it into his work schedule."

Bill will continue to receive his regular transfusions and pursue his lifelong dream of owning his own rig as an independent truck driver.

He never forgets where the blood comes from.

"I guess the person who donates blood really cares about other people, to give blood like that," he said. "I'd like to thank them for 17 years so far."

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