Waterloo Junior High School recently hosted a blood drive in honor of local cancer warrior Elsa Wiemerslage.
The Red Cross Blood Drive was largely organized by Linze Zarzeck, who leads Loo’s Little Listeners – an extension of Waterloo Listens.
Zarzeck said the youth group predominantly focused on getting the word out about the drive while members of the Gibault Catholic High School basketball team volunteered their services working the check-in desk.
The Loo’s Little Listeners volunteers also passed out shirts at the event and had a table set up for those hoping to make or drop off a card for Elsa.
Zarzeck said the event saw 60 individuals come to donate blood while over 100 cards were collected for Elsa.
She added that the inspiration for the event came after seeing a Facebook post from Elsa’s mother Adrienne Wiemerslage emphasizing the importance of such drives and donations.
Zarzeck said she often sees such posts from Wiemerslage and wanted to provide a close-to-home opportunity to donate for this interested.
“The desire to want to help is definitely there, I just wanted to make it more convenient for those people,” Zarzeck said.
Wiemerslage recalled that Zarzeck reached out to her after a post she made about thanking donors.
Given the family’s history of supporting such events in the past, she said she was happy to help get things set up, though she emphasized just how much Zarzeck did to take care of the event.
“We’ve done blood drives and Be The Match drives for bone marrow transplant donors before, so of course I was very interested,” Wiemerslage said. “And she just took it and sent me a permission slip for me basically to sign as a parent of Elsa, and she did everything. She organized it and did absolutely everything.”
See pictures from the recent blood drive at WJHS on page 8B.
Wiemerslage also offered an update on Elsa’s condition.
The family have spent much of the last few months in Memphis, Tenn, as Elsa was admitted to St. Jude Children’s Hospital back in October.
“We came to St. Jude in early October and did all the testing and all the things that you need to do before a transplant,” Wiemerslage said. “She was in-patient Oct. 24 and Nov. 8 is when she had her third (bone marrow) transplant from her dad.”
Wiemerslage said the procedure went very well, and the cells from the transplant have fully engrafted.
Following the transplant, however, Elsa has experienced a number of complications that have left her recovering at St. Jude ever since.
“These are things we knew that she was at risk at, unfortunately, being her third transplant,” Wiemerslage said. “So we knew it was going to be a longer stay, probably on the longer side, but, y’know, you’re always hopeful.”
Even with her unfortunate circumstances, Elsa has remained a beacon of positivity for those around her.
Wiemerslage said that, as a soon-to-be 13-year-old, Elsa has developed a big interest in reading and artistic creativity as well as a passion for organization.
She’s also found a love for animals that has come to impact a substantial part of St. Jude.
Wiemerslage shared that some time ago her daughter said she wanted to put pictures of her pets outside her door so other kids walking by her room might be cheered up seeing them.
Several nurses and staff members joined in with animal pictures of their own, and a little girl’s idea to decorate her door has since turned into a large bulletin board dedicated to animal pictures.
“She’s an animal lover, but she also wants to make other people happy and bring smiles to their faces,” Wiemerslage said. “She thinks about others a lot.”
Wiemerslage further remarked on the impact that Elsa has had on those around her, particularly in her home community of Waterloo.
She said she hopes Elsa’s situation has helped to highlight other kids in the community dealing with similar health struggles.
She also believes that Elsa has been able to bring attention to the importance of blood drives, as having a local face attached to such donations hopefully helps encourage people to donate for the sake of someone they might know.
Wiemerslage also emphasized the importance of events like the recent blood drive, as platelets in particular are crucial for kids in Elsa’s situation, and both St. Louis and Memphis are currently experiencing a major shortage.
Wiemerslage said the family is currently hoping to have Elsa out of the hospital as soon as possible.
They don’t expect a discharge until late January, though their hopes are still high that Elsa will be home for her Feb. 8 birthday after a long holiday season in the hospital.
“She spent all the holidays (at St. Jude’s) in-patient: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. So we’re hoping she gets out for her birthday,” Wiemerslage said.