Lilburn family trades gift exchange for blood drive

LILBURN -- A blood drive that began as an alternative to chaotic Christmas gift exchanges has blossomed into an annual community event.

The Kotter family, which consists of nine kids, 36 grandchildren and six great grandchildren, is putting on a fourth annual blood drive from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Lilburn. The blood drives began in honor of David Kotter, 14, who is battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and was bald and in a wheelchair during the first event.

"It's what Christmas should be," said Adam Kotter, David's father. "It unites us. We're constantly picking at each other, arguing, like brothers and sisters. When we do this particular project, nobody fusses and fights."

The family figured a blood drive would be easy to do, because David needed so many transfusions, they saw it as a way to give back for so much blood that he took out of the system, his mother, Lisa, said.

The first year, the Red Cross expected 20 to 30 people, but 100 showed up and produced 80 units.

"It was a neat, community-building experience," Adam said.

The second year, they expected about 40 and the number of attendees about doubled that figure. Last year, the drive collected and donated more than 100 blankets to Children's Hospital of Atlanta at Egleston, where David received treatment, Adam said.

"His body didn't produce blood for a year and a half," Adam said. "Let's do this service project for all the kids in the area. People just showed up right and left. First-time blood donators, people with a fear of needles. It kind of put a personal face on giving blood. It was the first time they knew somebody that needed blood. Now they've become regular donors."

The blood collected stays in the metro Atlanta area, Adam said, and the family tries to make sure as much as possible goes to Egleston.

"Having lived in the hospital," Adam said, "that blood is life and death to these guys."

David is now a straight-A honor student at Trickum Middle School, and on a three-and-a-half year plan to have chemotherapy every day, which ends on July 4, 2013, Adam said.

With an infectious smile, David has persevered through chemo without using it as an excuse. But the blood drive, and support has lifted his spirits, Adam said.

"That really helped him in his really dark days that he had the community behind him," Adam said.

To signup for the event, visit http://www.signupgenius.com/go/60B0B4CAFA72BA02-kotter