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Daughter's Cancer Fight Inspires Mother to Become Blood Drive Champ

Jennifer Babec is Heartland's top volunteer coordinator, and her next event -- done in partnership with State's Attorney Jim Glasgow -- could set a new record.

Taylor Babec was just a few weeks into kindergarten when a lump that "seemed to come out of nowhere" appeared on her head.

A biopsy was done and the diagnosis so bad that the doctor delivered it to her parents, Jennifer and Chuck Babec, by phone rather than waste time having them come to the office.

Taylor had stage 4 lymphoma.

"They told us right away because they didn't know how much time they had to treat it," Jennifer Babec said.

That was 2007. The news sent the Joliet family into a medical labyrinth of chemotherapy, blood transfusions and spinal taps. The resultant side effects were almost as bad as the treatments, including seizures and recurring cases of painful shingles, Babec said.

The blood transfusions Taylor needed were a tangible way in which Jennifer Babec could help, and at first she organized friends and family to donate, she said. There was no guarantee the blood donated would be used by Taylor, who underwent a total of 22 transfusions at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago and in Naperville, but it could help someone else in a life-threatening situation, Babec said.

In 2008, in the midst of what would be the first of Taylor's three years of treatment, Babec organized two blood drives. Two years later, she was up to five or six, she said.

The chemotherapy proved exceptionally effective in Taylor's case. By 2010, the tumor had disappeared and the now-11-year-old, a fifth-grader at Grand Prairie Elementary School in Plainfield, is in remission.

But Babec has not stopped her blood collection efforts. Last year, she organized seven blood drives and she's likely to match or top that number this year. She's Heartland Blood Center's top volunteer coordinator.

Her most successful was held in March, when she joined forces with . Nearly 155 people donated and they took in a total of 101 pints, a new record for the Heartland's mobile coaches.

If Babec and Glasgow have their way, that record will be broken next month when they hold another joint blood drive from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. July 13. A mobile coach will be set up outside Glasgow's 121 N. Chicago St. office, across the street from the Rialto Square Theatre

This will be one of Heartland's bigger blood drives, with donor incentives including a free quart of Oberweis ice cream and free pulled pork sandwiches provided by of Plainfield. Country radio station WCCQ (98.3 FM) will be doing a live broadcast. Donors will also be entered to win a free barbecue set with apron.

Babec credits her neighbor Charles Pelkie, Glasgow's director of public affairs, with bringing the idea to his boss. Glasgow embraced it completely, Babec said.

In March, he was at the event from beginning to end and worked the phones to get friends and county employees to come over and make a donation, she said.

"As soon as we completed the blood drive, he said, 'Let's do it again,'" Babec said.

If Babec was impressed with the state's attorney, the feeling was mutual.

"This remarkable mom has given so much back to our community as a way of saying thank you for the gift of her daughter's health," Glasgow said in a release issued on the upcoming event.

Babec added that by holding the drive in summer, the blood collected will help Heartland during the period when donations are at their lowest and demand the highest.

"By the time you need the blood, it's already too late (if the supply's not available)," Babec said. "It's just something you can't plan on. This blood is needed. It goes to our community."

To schedule an appointment to donate blood on July 13, go online at www.heartlandbc.org, call Babec at 815-325-4282 or email her at Babec7@yahoo.com.

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