'Cheering for Charlie' blood drive scheduled to help Franklin boy fighting rare cancer

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. -- A community blood drive is scheduled for this Saturday to help a young Franklin boy who is fighting an extremely rare form of cancer.

19-month-old Charlie Smith was diagnosed in November with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a cancer that forms in the nerve cells and can lead to life-threatening tumors throughout the body.

Charlie’s father, Cody Smith, said doctors initially thought Charlie may be constipated due to discomfort in his abdomen. Specialists later found a tumor growing in Charlie’s midsection.

“The mass had grown. It had pushed his kidney down underneath his rib cage, and that’s what he felt,” Cody said. “That’s why they thought, 'Oh, maybe it’s constipation.'”

Cody and Charlie’s mother, Stephanie, say they were stunned to learn Charlie had a form of cancer that only sees about 600 diagnoses in the U.S. each year.

“A shock to find out that our baby has cancer,” Stephanie said. “Not something you ever picture yourself going through.”

“We were just crushed that our baby, our 16-month-old at the time, had a 50% chance of survival,” Cody said.

Since the diagnosis, Charlie has undergone four rounds of chemotherapy and about a dozen blood transfusions. He has had several extended stays at Riley Hospital for Children since November.

“It’s difficult as a parent when you can’t do anything,” Cody said. “You’re just relying on the doctors and praying that a miracle happens.”

“We take every day day-by-day and just trust that we’re heading in the right direction with him,” Stephanie said.

The Smiths are now preparing for an aggressive treatment plan for Charlie that will include more chemotherapy, radiation, stem cell transplants and immunotherapy.  

The treatment will require many more blood transfusions for Charlie, and people are rallying around the Smiths to help.

This Saturday, Versiti Blood Center will host a community blood drive for Charlie at their Greenwood location just off U.S. 31. Support for the drive is already pouring in as people follow the “Cheering for Charlie” Facebook page, which has more than 5,000 members. A GoFundMe account promoted on the Facebook page has already raised nearly $39,000 to support the Smith family.

Nicole Brosseau, an account manager for Versiti Blood Center, said most blood drives typically have about 15 people sign up to donate. Saturday’s “Cheering for Charlie” drive already has more than 100 people registered to donate.

“To be able to get behind this, a cause, and try to get to 150 donors Cheering for Charlie, it’s just amazing,” Brosseau said.

Cody and Stephanie say they know there are some difficult days ahead for Charlie and their family. They also say they won’t be facing those days alone and are overwhelmed with the amount of support they’ve already received.

“It’s awesome to watch a community rally around our baby,” Cody said. “And we are very grateful for everything.”

“We just want to say thank you for the people that are going to be donating,” Stephanie said. “It really does mean a lot to us.”

Saturday’s blood drive will take place from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m at Versiti’s Greenwood donation center, located at 8739 South U.S. Highway 31 South. Anyone wishing to schedule an appointment to donate can call 317-916-5150 or visit Versiti’s donation website.

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