LOOKING at Kelsey Drabsch today, it’s hard to believe she was once on the brink of death.Born two months premature, the bubbly Lake Tuggeranong College student weighed a fragile 1.4 kilograms (three pounds) at birth, leaving her with underdeveloped lungs, profound deafness and infected bowels which required immediate surgery.
At age seven, Kelsey was diagnosed with primary immunodeficiency disease; a state where the immune system’s ability to fight infectious disease is compromised or entirely absent due to a lack of white blood cells.
The 17-year-old now depends on infusions of anti-bodies every four weeks for the rest of her life.
As a young ambassador for the Australian Red Cross, Kelsey has been visiting schools around Canberra since March, encouraging students to roll up their sleeves and donate blood to help people like her.
“Some people don’t realise how much blood we rely on, and it saves about three lives a year, from people who have been in accidents, to people like me who need it for infusions,” Kelsey says.
“I need about 240 mls every time I come in to get enough white blood cells, and if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be able to live healthily. Even the week before I’m due to go get the infusions, I start to feel weak and fatigued, so it really helps me continue on.”
Kelsey, who wears a hearing aid and can lip read, says having chronic illness doesn’t stop her from being the energetic, sports-mad student she is today.
In year 10 she won a Gai Brodtmann “Legend” award, for students who overcome significant obstacles to achieve their goals.
A semester of bullying in year 8 “hurt”, she says, but made her more determined to push on with her studies.
“I never let it stop me, I think it made me stronger in the end and taught me to not rely so much on my friends, to just do my own thing,” Kelsey says.
“I started really getting into sports like soccer after that, and branched out and made new friends.”
It also inspired Kelsey to set up a soccer-based, lunchtime program called Kids Empowered Learning Sport, which encouraged students to interact and make new friendships through sports. The program was run in four schools for about a term, and involved over 200 students.
“I wanted to help combat bullying because it can be a pretty horrible thing when you’re at school, so it was great to see people interact and make new friends, to let them know they can do anything they want,” she says.
Kelsey recently told her story at Starlight Foundation Balls in Canberra and Melbourne to standing ovations, and says she will continue to speak about issues she is passionate about.
“I realise how lucky I am to be alive, when things could have been a lot worse,” she says.
“I definitely would like to continue making people aware that they can make a difference.”
To donate blood to the Australian Red Cross, visit donateblood.com.au