GREAT FALLS — Five years ago, the Ross family of Great Falls lived a waking nightmare. Their son Troy, three years old at the time, was struggling to breathe and airlifted to Seattle Children’s Hospital with a rare life-threatening lung disease, and an uncertain future. Blood transfusions from donors saved his life. Today, Troy is in remission and it’s imperative to his family to pay it forward.
Troy’s room is full of gifts, memories, and keepsakes from the outreach he’s received over the past five years. There’s signed footballs and helmets from every college team in Montana, photos of him with Treasure State sports stars, and banners from various Troy Strong blood drives and events.
But one of the most recent additions is also one of the most important. “This is my port,” Troy said as he removes the little device from a vial. “It used to be in my chest for pokes."
It’s a symbol of how far he’s come, and a reminder of how precious life is. After five years, countless trips, treatments and transfusions - Troy is finally living like the normal, sports loving 7-year old that he is.
"I just really personally didn't think that we were ever going see a full stage of healthy,” said his father Wes. "When he woke up from surgery and the port was in a little plastic vial, I knew it was real. I knew we'd made it. And it's truly just a miracle that he's here.”
For a long time the Ross family’s entire life revolved around making sure Troy stayed healthy. And though there is always risk of a regression and flare-up of symptoms, the hardest part is likely over.
"It's kind of an odd feeling to be done,” said his mother Callie. "Like we don't have to schedule our whole entire family life around when is his next treatment? When does his port need to be flushed? It's just a big sigh of relief”
Though worst is behind them, their message will never change: donated blood saved Troy’s life.
And for the the fifth summer in a row, the Ross family is helping organize a statewide “TroyStrong” blood drive, to help meet the critical need. This year, 11 cities across the state are hosting a drive.
"We found the positive out of something that was really horrible,” Callie said. "It helped us cope, at least that was my coping mechanism through it was the blood drives.”
When Troy got sick, Wes was an assistant coach for the Great Falls High School football team and connected to schools and athletic programs across the state. The outpouring of support for Troy led to a surge in blood donations from friends, family and complete strangers who were touched by his story.
And in turn that’s meant hundreds of lives saved in the name of one little boy.
“We want to thank Wes and Callie and Kennedy and Troy for organizing these drives and just being great spokespeople for the need for lifesaving blood,” said Matthew Ochsner, the regional communications director for American Red Cross. "Obviously, they have depended on it and there’s so many other Montana families out there that depend on this blood being on hospital shelves, every single day across the state."
These are the facts: One pint of blood can save up to three lives, someone needs blood every two seconds, and 4.5 million Americans will need a blood transfusion each year. Facts that the Ross family hopes becomes common knowledge thanks to their outreach with these drives.
“It took this to happen for us to be donors and I would rather not have other people have to go through that to spur them to want to do it,” Callie said.
There are still openings at #TroyStrong drives across the state. A complete list of the 11 drives is below, 10 of them are hosted by the Red Cross, one in Miles City is run by Vitalant:
· June 21 – Bozeman, noon-6 p.m., Red Cross Blood Donation Center, 300 North Willson Ave., sponsor code TROYSTRONG
· June 22 – Billings, 12:30-6 p.m., Rocky Mountain College Bair Family Student Center, 1511 Poly Drive, sponsor code TROYSTRONG
· June 22 – Havre, noon–5 p.m., St. Jude Parish Center, 440 7th Ave., sponsor code TROYSTRONG
· June 22 – Helena, noon-5 p.m., Red Cross Blood Donation Center, 3150 N. Montana, sponsor code TROY
· June 22 – Kalispell, 11:30-6 p.m., Red Cross Blood Donation Center, 126 N. Meridian, sponsor code TROYSTRONG
· June 23 -- Great Falls, noon-6 p.m., Red Cross Blood Donation Center, 1300 28th St. S., sponsor code TROYSTRONG
· June 23 – Missoula, noon-6:30 p.m., Red Cross Blood Donation Center, 2401 N. Reserve St., Suite 6, sponsor code TROYSTRONG
· June 24 – Butte, 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Butte Central Foundation, 550 E. Mercury St., sponsor code TROY
· June 28 - Miles City, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m, Miles Community College, search for “Miles City” (hosted by Vitalant)
· June 29 – Dillon, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., University of Montana-Western Swysgood Technology Center, 710 S. Atlantic St., sponsor code TROYSTRONG
· June 30 – Bozeman, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Montana State University SUB Building, 221 Strand Union, sponsor code TROYSTRONG