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Klunda Hobbs, a phlebotomist from Shepeard Community Blood Center, prepares Allison Blair for a blood donation in Gibson. Glascock County residents turned out in large numbers last week for a blood drive in honor of a young cancer patient from Gibson. He, Mason Burnette, is shown at top right.

Just a few days after his fifth birthday in mid-January, a mass was found in Mason Burnette’s stomach. After testing, he was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma — a form of childhood cancer.

The Glascock County community is rallying behind young Mason, who has already had three blood transfusions.

“After the first one you could physically see a change,” said Mason’s mother, Makayla Hall. “His skin didn’t look see through anymore. Even after being poked and prodded by the doctor he was generally happy. He had so much more energy.”

Last week, people came out in force to donate blood in two Shepeard Community Blood Center blood drives in one day. One was in the morning at Glascock County High School. The other started in the afternoon at the Glascock County Sheriff’s Office. Ashley Whitaker, director of community resources for Shepeard Community Blood Center, termed the turnout as “phenomenal.”

There are regular blood drives at the high school in Gibson, but this one was different. Whitaker reports there were 116 donors during all of 2020. Last Thursday participation by donors wanting to help Mason totaled 81. That was collectively from both the collection sites at the high school and at the sheriff’s office.

“Our school hosts a blood drive every 56 days, but this one seems to be a little bit different because there is one of our faces to go along with it,” said Glascock County Sheriff Jeremy Kelley. “A tragedy is always a tragedy, but a tragedy always sinks in a little deeper when you know the face that goes with it.”

Hall, since her son’s diagnosis, has been in contact with parents who lost a child to cancer and have started the Alex Strong Foundation. Hall shared wisdom given to her by that mother.

“She said ‘when you donate blood you may not technically be saving a life, but will most definitely be changing one’. We have seen that first hand,” said Hall.

Kelley said in a small community like Gibson and Glascock County, when something like this befalls someone you tend to know the entire family — children, parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

“They’re a great family. They are the epitome of what Glascock County is. If you need something, they’ll come help you,” Kelley said. “Glascock County is bar none, I will put it up against any county in the state of Georgia or the United States of America, that when one of ours is in need this place steps up far more than you can ever imagine to help,” he added.

The blood drives took on the theme of Be A Hero, a motto devised by Shepeard Blood Center.

“Being a hero is just helping somebody else. That is what we are put here for. We’re called to serve whatever position we’re in whether it’s the sheriff, whether it’s a school teacher, whether it’s a stay at home mom,” said Kelley.

The sheriff was not the only local official to be in the front of the line for blood donation Thursday morning. The first three were the probation office chief, a county commissioner, and then the sheriff. Mason’s mom was doing her part as well and was the fourth person in line that morning. The community continued to line up to donate all day long. When the bloodmobile shut down at the school at 2 p.m., donors still in line simply shifted over to the bloodmobile at the sheriff’s office.

“I’m all for blood drives because I’m a nurse and also I know Mason because I’m from Glascock,” said Doriann Dye, as she awaited her chance to donate. “I understand from both perspectives, helping out the community and the medical crisis of the pandemic. I just wanted to help out.”

“My children went to school with Mason’s parents and I’ve watched them grow up and I want to see their child continue to grow up,” said Allison Blair, one of the blood donors.

Kelley is not just the sheriff, but also a parent of two young children and relates to Mason and his parents’ situation.

“Mason is 5. A parent shouldn’t have to be dealing with cancer of their 5-year-old child,” said Kelley. “I have a 7 year old and an 8 month old, so that just hits close to home.”

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