BUFORD — Olivia Ouimet (pronounced “WE-met”) would’ve celebrated her 16th birthday on April 6, 2021. She would’ve been a sophomore at Buford High School this year. However, a new story began for Olivia’s parents, Chris and Leigh, when their third-grade daughter came home from Wolfpack on a day just like any other in February 2013. Olivia told her dad in the car that her teacher had said to make sure to show her parents that her eyes looked a little yellow.
It was the Epstein Barr virus, which lies dormant in 95 percent of the population and which most healthy people can fight off. Olivia couldn’t. While being treated for viral hepatitis at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Olivia was diagnosed with a rare, two-in-a-million blood disorder called Aplastic Anemia.
“With odds that low, there simply isn’t enough research to support treatments,” Chris said.
Over the next 18 months, weekly blood transfusions at CHOA proved little Olivia Rae’s body wasn’t making platelets and blood cells.
“We had a standing appointment each week. She had hundreds and hundreds of transfusions,” Leigh said.
The best recourse they had was a bone marrow transplant.
“Her first radiation treatment took her immune system down to nothing,” Chris said.
Consequently, the Epstein Barr virus came back, which caused the transplant to fail.
Olivia lost her battle on Nov. 21, 2014, in the ICU at CHOA.
“What do you do when a portion of your life ends?” Chris said, “I didn’t want other people to feel like I felt every morning.”
With that, Leigh and Chris used their grief to fuel help and inspiration for others. They looked to their own experience and began to process other ways they could turn Olivia’s life and their loss into gain for others.
That’s where the idea for a blood drive in Olivia’s memory was born. Due to blood shortages, “there were times when Olivia needed blood and we literally had to wait on the Red Cross to drive up with bags of blood for her,” Chris said. “The need for blood is so basic; four-wheeler accidents, you just don’t know. Every single person on the planet can benefit from a blood donation.”
And each blood donation can impact— or even save — up to three lives.
This March 28 will be the sixth annual Bleeding Green blood drive at Buford First Methodist, with donations processed through LifeSouth.
As Leigh and Chris have processed the loss of their daughter, they have experienced the reality of collateral beauty.
“You come to grips with what really matters,” Chris said, urging parents to learn from his grief. “Hug your kids a little tighter tonight. Give them the extra cookie. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
“I was always thinking way ahead and never present in the moment,” he said. “The biggest collateral beauty for me is to be present wherever I am. Today is what matters; you never know what tomorrow holds.”