A gift to glow about

It took hundreds of blood donations to help save the life of eight year old Elsa.

Major Nathan Klinge
Major Nathan Klinge
Major Nathan Klinge and Elsa

‘It’s a real pleasure to see her out running and fighting with her sisters again,” said Major Nathan Klinge looking back on his daughter Elsa’s two and a half year battle with cancer. 

Siblings fighting may not be the most comforting sound, but for this Army couple in South Australia it was a sound sorely missed after Elsa was diagnosed with pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukaemia one day after her fifth birthday on June 14, 2008. 

Elsa’s mother, Captain Kerry Klinge, said they had noticed for several weeks she wasn’t herself. “Initially she had symptoms of cold and flu,” she said. “After a week her symptoms had got a little better but her glands in her neck were still quite large and we agreed with the doctor that we needed to get blood tests done to see what was going on.” 

It wasn’t long after the tests that they received the shattering news that Elsa had cancer. What followed was a two and a half year chemotherapy program including many blood donations, which made the difference between life and death on more than one occasion. 

Major Klinge said the blood products were an important part of the management process of the chemotherapy program. “The chemotherapy knocks down the red blood-cell count and they would take Elsa down as low as they could,” he said. “This is when the blood donations come in.” 

The blood donations were administered to Elsa to bump her red-blood cell count back up and allow her to get back to some of the regular things in life, such as school and playing with her friends. 

Major Klinge said the blood donations administered to Elsa had an immediate impact. She would be lethargic, extremely unwell and have a grey look towards the end of the treatment,” he said. 

As soon as the blood donation started the tops of her ears would turn red and start to glow, followed by her lips and cheeks – you could almost see her filling up on the blood product. “No more than 30 minutes later she would be bouncing and running around like usual.” 

Major Nathan Klinge and his daughter Elsa
Major Nathan Klinge and his daughter Elsa
Major Nathan Klinge and Elsa

To complicate matters further, Elsa was exposed to chicken pox, which Major Klinge said could have proven fatal because of the treatment she was receiving at the time. “Due to Elsa having a low immune system, doctors had to administer a live vaccine compared to the traditional vaccine,” he said. “Several hundred donations of blood contributed to her having that vaccine.” 

Elsa is now in remission however will still have check-ups as part of a long-term plan to ensure that if the cancer does come back it is identified early and appropriate treatments put in place. 

Talking about the importance of blood donations, Major Klinge said until someone saw the effects first-hand, the magnitude of its importance didn’t hit home. “I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that blood donations can help people,” he said. “But when you see your child at the point of not being able to come back by herself and then see her bounce back after a blood donation you realise it is an amazing gift.” 

On the back of this diagnosis and in general support of donating blood, the 3rd Health Support Battalion organised a blood drive with reservists who wanted to donate, Major Klinge said he believed the large amount of donations came from the strong desire within Army to serve others. 

“Donating blood is a genuine way to do this service for the community,” he said. Elsa is back to her old self these days running around, playing and fighting with her sisters and said she always felt so much better after the blood donations during her treatment, joking that there must have been some really good stuff in that blood. 

“I’m really happy that people donated their blood to me, otherwise I might still be quite sick,” she said. “I’d like to thank everyone from the Army for donating – it helps us kids out a lot.”