There were cake pops and balloon animals abound as community members spent a recent afternoon celebrating a local teen’s 15th birthday.

The celebration took the form of a blood drive — a collaborative effort between Nebraska Community Blood Bank and the Little Giants Foundation — held Saturday in Gretna’s Village Square.

Birthday girl Emily Koesters and her family welcomed 40 donors at the weekend drive, Emily holding people’s hands and providing encouragement to those who hadn’t experienced as many pokes and prods as she has in her 15 years.

Diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder — Schimke Immuno-Osseous Displasia — Emily received her first blood transfusions at 4 years old.

Now, she and her family work to bring a face and voice to SIOD and fund research needed to protect those children’s lives.

Saturday’s drive saw 34 units collected for a total 102 lives saved, a sure win during a time of year when blood donations aren’t as frequent.

“We see people on vacation having fun,” said Jessica Sodeke, Nebraska Community Blood Bank’s marketing and communications specialist. “Even our regular donors miss appointments in the summer and we’re always in need of new donors.”

Marketed as a “hometown heroes” drive, the event set a goal to collect 30 units of blood products. Once the goal was reached, the blood bank made a donation back to the Little Giants Foundation in an effort to further both organizations’ missions.

“It’s a win-win, to help save lives by giving blood and helping save lives by funding research,” said Erin Koesters, Emily’s mother and Executive Director of the Little Giants Foundation.

Nebraska Community Blood Bank, a Lincoln-based organization, provides blood locally, unlike larger organizations who collect on a more nationwide scale.

“Our goal is to help people in our Nebraska hospitals,” Sodeke said. “That’s what we do: we save Nebraskans.”

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