RICHMOND, Indiana - A cardboard Darth Vader stood guard at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Richmond Saturday, March 18 while blue and red light saber battles clicked in the hallway and visitors snacked on "Princess Lay's" potato chips and "Ewok" Teddy Grahams in a Star Wars cantina.
"You have to have a theme," said Clint Newton about the 5th annual Baby Cooper Day in remembrance of his son. "If you don't have a theme, it's just a blood drive."
Over its five-year history Baby Cooper Day has always been more than a blood drive. This year the Newton family from Cambridge City chose a Star Wars theme for the "heavenly celebration" of what would have been Cooper's fifth birthday. Family and friends again rallied support, resulting in 82 donors and 71 blood donations for 115 percent of the collection goal.
Born March 22, 2012, Cooper was three months old when diagnosed with the congenital disorder Noonan syndrome. He was not yet seven months old when he lost his battle with heart and lung failure and leukemia.
Blood transfusions were part of Cooper's treatment and that inspired Clint and Beth Newton to organize the first Baby Cooper Day blood drive with Community Blood Center in April of 2013. Support was overwhelming with more than 100 donors participating, including 45 first-time donors.
Many of those same supporters return year after year to honor Cooper. The blood drive consistently surpasses its collection goals, and in five years has totaled 459 donors and 376 donations. Saturday marked the third year St. Paul's Lutheran Church has hosted the blood drive, and the church is a special place for the Newton family.
"When I met Beth this was the church she was going to," said Clint. "It's the church we were married in, and it's where we've been going for 14 years in October. We had our reception right there in this room."
The birthday remembrance of Cooper is a family event that draws also from a circle of community support. Heather Cauley works with Brent and his twin brother Nick at Wetzel Ford. She made her seventh lifetime donation Saturday and brought her eight-year-old daughter Reagan, a Star Wars fan.
"I really like it she said. "I think this is a great way to celebrate his birthday, a great way to remember him."
Centerville's Doug Eliason made his 222nd lifetime donation Saturday, and appreciated discovering the special dedication of this community blood drive at St. Paul's. "This is a nice location, and they have a lot going on," he said.
The family supports the Noonan Syndrome Foundation mission to raise awareness about the disease and support research at children's hospitals. Beth Newton said she also values the support it provides for families of survivors.
"It's still very rare, but is a very common cause of infant death," said Beth. "Many children do survive and it's good to have support because it is something they live with their entire life."