Kara Oliver sits on the grass with tulips behind her.

Kara Oliver was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in 2023.

June 5, 2024

Like many other second-graders, Heather Oliver’s 7-year-old daughter Kara loves to watch “Bluey,” listen to K-pop, and play games like Mario Kart and Animal Crossing. Dancing is also one of Kara’s favorite things to do, but she hasn’t been able to dance much recently.

In November 2023, Kara was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, which is a type of bone cancer. The diagnosis shocked her family. Now, Kara regularly needs transfusions to boost her blood cell counts and to help her recover from chemotherapy treatments. Heather Oliver, an ARUP payroll specialist, hopes to inspire others to donate blood to ARUP Blood Services by sharing Kara’s story.

Leading up to her diagnosis, Kara had been showing mild cold symptoms and had a low-grade fever that wasn’t alleviated by Tylenol. Oliver initially thought that it could be a mild illness or urinary tract infection (UTI). On October 30, she decided to take Kara in for medical care.

“Because the fever wasn’t going down, I thought maybe we should take her in to see what was going on,” she said. “We started driving to an urgent care and I had this feeling to turn around and go to a children’s care clinic in Taylorsville. It’s not a place I would have normally gone, but I felt like I should go there.”

At the clinic, the doctors decided to give Kara an x-ray to check for pneumonia. The imaging showed a posterior mediastinal mass in Kara’s chest, and Kara was referred to Primary Children’s Hospital.

“We did a CT scan. After several hours went by, we got taken into the [cancer unit], and that’s when I knew that they thought it was cancer,” Oliver said.

Following the initial scan, the physicians started diagnostic testing for Kara. Within a couple of days, the family learned that Kara had Ewing sarcoma. Kara’s diagnosis is rare because Ewing sarcoma typically occurs in the limbs and starts in teenagers.

“She had a cold, and the next thing we knew, we’re starting chemo,” Oliver said.

Since Kara was diagnosed, she has received six red blood cell transfusions and two platelet transfusions. Kara’s blood cell counts diminish significantly after chemotherapy treatments. The blood and platelet transfusions help her recover from treatments.

“There are so many kids at Primary Children’s and a lot of them have had multiple transfusions,” Oliver said. “Kara is on the low end, and there are some kids, like patients with leukemia, who have had several [transfusions] over the course of their treatment.”

By sharing Kara’s story, Oliver hopes to inspire others to donate blood. “Illness can affect anyone,” she said. “Anyone could be in a car accident and need blood. Or you could discover one day that your kid has cancer.”

Oliver said that Kara has O-positive blood. Patients with O-positive blood can only receive red blood cells from O-positive or O-negative blood types.

Since Kara began receiving transfusions, many members of her family have started donating blood. “My nieces have started donating blood because they know that Kara might receive it,” Oliver said.

“It means more to you when you know somebody who needs a blood transfusion or who needs platelets,” Oliver said. She added that if someone doesn’t know anyone who needs a transfusion, “they can think of Kara and think, ‘my blood’s going to this little girl.’”

Deborah Jordan, ARUP Blood Services community relations supervisor, said that patient stories such as Kara’s help remind potential donors that blood donated to ARUP helps real people in Utah. 

“Our motto, ‘Give Local. Save Local,’ is not without merit,” Jordan said. “Donors in the greater Salt Lake valley are the only ones who can help us,” Jordan said. “Kara is one of our own—her mom works at ARUP, and her grandma works at ARUP. This is a chance for ARUP employees to rally and help.” 

ARUP Blood Services is always in need of blood. World Donor Day is approaching on June 14, and ARUP is hosting a blood drive from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Sandy Donor Center, located at 9786 Sandy Parkway (500 West), in Sandy, Utah. Call 801-584-5272 to schedule an appointment or visit the Blood Services website for more ways to help.  

To learn more about Kara’s story and how you can support her, visit the family’s Instagram account, @fight.like.kara.