March 5, 2021

RICHMOND, Indiana - When the Cooper Newton Memorial Blood Drive took place in early March one year ago, COVID-19 was a concern but not yet a crisis.

This year the Newton family of Cambridge City returned to St. Paul's Lutheran Church on March 4 to host the ninth annual blood drive, and to mark a year of turmoil, survival, and change.

The blood drive again honored Cooper Newton, who received multiple blood transfusions during his struggle with the congenital disorder Noonan syndrome and died at the tender age of seven months. Clint and Beth Newton sponsored the first blood drive in their son's memory in 2013.

The traditional birthday party theme was absent at this year's blood drive. COVID-19 precautions meant no party refreshments and a limited gathering of family and friends. The tribute reached 100% of collection goal with 30 donors.

Beth Newton recalled the 2020 blood drive as she donated Thursday. "It was right before," she said. "The next week was when everything started happening."

Schools closed, businesses shut-down, and blood drives everywhere were cancelled. Donors filled beds at the Dayton Community Blood Center for weeks of "Donor Strong" blood drives. CEO Craig Kenyon donated at Reid Health, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman donated in Dayton and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and the Surgeon General asked everyone to give blood.

The CBC blood donor who won the drawing for tickets to the "First Four" at Dayton's UD Arena learned the NCAA Basketball Tournament was cancelled. So were proms, weddings, concerts, games, and graduations.

Clint Newton's father Rick Newton shook his head at Thursday's blood drive and said, "What a mess." COVID-19 became a threat to their family. "My mom and dad are 85 and 83 and they both had it," said Rick. "My sister too."

Rick's sister Susan Newton was exposed to COVID while helping her parents. "Mom was coughing when I walked through the door," she said.  She came from her home in Bowling Green, Kentucky to donate Thursday in Cooper's memory and recalled the 2020 blood drive.

"The next day, everybody was panicking," she said. She came to understand why. She had COVID four months ago and her health has not been the same.

"I'm a long-hauler," she said of the term for those with lingering COVID symptoms. "Very tired, headaches and fatigue all the time, brain fog, nightmares and crazy, crazy dreams."

But in the past year Cooper's brother Gavin learned to drive, brother Gunner made the school golf team, and both Clint and Beth changed jobs.

Beth is now executive director of Richmond's Center City Development Corporation and her focus in 2020 was helping downtown businesses survive the pandemic. "It's good to do something you feel is making a difference," she said. "It definitely feels good to help them. Some of them have never experienced anything like this."

Making a difference has always been the family's goal for the blood drive.

Reid Health rehabilitation therapist Elizabeth Pitcock came to support the family. "We live in the same town and my husband is friends with the whole Newton family," she said.  

Elizabeth encouraged fellow physical therapist Maria Byrum to donate. "I hadn't donated in 20 years," said Maria. "She said, 'Let's go donate blood" and I said, OK!"

They recalled the year of COVID at Reid Health. "We were still working in the hospital when it started," Elizabeth said. "We saw the number of patients plummet, then when we got COVID survivors it skyrocketed again."

Rev. Clifford Nunn, associate pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, spoke with Beth as she donated. "I wanted to come and be a part of it," he said.  He agreed with everyone's sentiments about the COVID year of 2020. "Let's not have another one of those."