Memories of nine-year-old cancer patient Barrett Fitzsimmons remained strong at the sixth annual “Barrett Strong” blood drive Aug. 5 at Forest Valley Free Will Baptist Church in Springfield.

Blood drive volunteer Jean Grumbling spoke for the community as she wore a bright red “Barrett Strong” t-shirt and placed her hand on her chest. “Barrett’s in our hearts all the time,” said Jean.

Barrett was diagnosed with cancer at age six. He fought a three-year battle against the disease and had completed third grade at Northwestern Elementary School before his death in May 2019. 

“Barrett Strong!” support from his church and community included three Community Blood Center blood drives as he fought cancer, and since his death three memorial blood drives, including during the pandemic.

“He fought it for four years,” said Jean, whose own heart has been heavy during the pandemic. In the last year and a half, she survived a heart attack, COVID-19 infection, and recent heart surgery. She marveled at Barrett’s strength.

“He’d be in the hospital,” she said, “Then he’d be running down the halls like nothing was wrong with him. We were all fighting with him, keeping him strong.”

“He was a good little boy,” said donor Helen Webb. “He sure was!” agreed fellow donor Richard Dean.

Pastor Dell Wallace, leader of the Forest Valley congregation for 13 years, again donated in Barrett’s honor.  “He’s been gone now two years,” said Pastor Wallace. His 16-month old grandson James squirmed in his mother Ashley’s lap wanting to sit with Pastor Wallace as he donated.

Blood drive coordinator Lee Armstrong made her 43rd lifetime donation Thursday. She helped Barrett’s grandmother Keana Preston organize the first “Barret Strong” blood drive.

Thursday’s blood drive totaled 28 donors and 23 donations for 95% of collection goal.

“We did well last year, even with COVID,” said Lee. “Our minimum is 24 donors and everything over that is a bonus. It’s for the family, and for everybody that needs blood. Barrett benefitted from it and so did other people.”

Lee is committed to continuing the “Barret Strong” blood drive each summer, when demand for blood is high, and when Barrett is remembered most.

“It’s good to continue, and good to remember his birthday,” said Lee. “His birthday is July 29. He would have been 12. We know it’s a hard time for the family.”