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West Hall High rallies behind friend’s cancer with blood drive on Friday

POSTED: September 12, 2008 5:02 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Brian Ernst, 17, a former baseball player at West Hall High School, was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer in May. West Hall High School is sponsoring a blood drive on Friday in honor of Ernst.

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Donating blood benefits more than those injured in car wrecks or natural disasters. Just ask Brian Ernst.

He has received eight pints of blood in the past three months. The 17-year-old baseball player doesn’t have a broken bone or a scratch on him. He has cancer.

On May 23, doctors told Ernst he had Ewing’s sarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer that typically attacks the bones of young children. Since then, Ernst has temporarily traded his West Hall High School pitcher’s uniform for a hospital gown.

Although facing round four of six-day chemotherapy treatments that leave him feeling deflated and his body starved for oxygen-filled blood, Ernst has adopted a positive outlook on his illness.

"We can use my situation to change people’s lives, and that’s what our goal is," he said. "No one really knows about the cancer patients who need blood ... We want to get the word out as best we can.

"There’s a lot of people, little kids, who need the blood. If they can’t have the blood ... They can’t have the chemo treatments," he said. "If we can get the word out that if you can give blood, do it, because it’s going to help so many people."

The students and staff of West Hall High School have rallied behind Ernst and his mother, Donna Ernst, a staff member at West Hall High, to make the former Spartan pitcher’s goal a reality. The International Baccalaureate students of West Hall High are hosting a blood drive Friday in honor of the student markedly absent from their senior classes.

Brian Ernst said blood transfusions are vital to a cancer patient’s well-being in the days following chemotherapy treatments, especially for young children who carry smaller volumes of blood in their little bodies.

After six days of being infused with chemotherapy drugs for 24 hours a day that zap red blood cells, Brian Ernst said it’s hard for him to walk without feeling as if he’s going to pass out. But after a blood transfusion, which typically requires an overnight stay in the hospital, he said he feels like a completely different person with blood full of fresh oxygen coursing through his arteries.

"I had no idea that chemo patients undergoing aggressive therapy needed blood transfusions," Donna Ernst said. "It takes everything he’s got to recover from the treatment. ... He’s almost instantly anemic before he gets (the blood transfusion.) He has to have two pints after every chemo treatment. After he gets that blood, almost instantly he feels better."

Brian Ernst said he remembers the night of May 23 when he found out he had cancer. At first, he said he was shocked, but after a long talk with his mother, they came to a conclusion.

"We looked at each other and we kind of said, ‘You know, instead of looking at this situation and pout and feeling sorry for yourself and wondering why did this have to happen to me, why don’t we take this situation and try to bring positive things out of it,’" he said. "... Enjoy what you have while you have it because you never know when one day your life could take a complete 180 turn."

Donna Ernst said the words of her 17-year-old often inspire her, and she has seen how it has affected his many friends at West Hall High who regularly visit.

Brian Ernst said the many phone calls and visits he receives from family, friends and strangers have boosted his faith, and helps him to feel normal again.

All that praying and positive energy certainly has done Brian Ernst some good. His mother said chemotherapy treatments already have shrunk the pear-shaped malignant tumor lodged in his upper left leg 33 percent. She said her son is anxious to finish up the chemotherapy in December, and hopes to celebrate his 18th birthday on March 11 by returning to a West Hall High classroom with his friends. From an Emory hospital bed that he occupies nearly every other week, Brian Ernst also dreams of pitching a perfect game and hitting balls out of the park. Playing ball in college remains at the top of his to-do list.

"You’ll definitely see me back out there on the baseball field."



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