RICHMOND, Indiana – Cooper Newton would be turning four this week, finally old enough to be like his big brothers and sign up for spring T-ball. Instead he was remembered as “Our Angel in the Outfield” at the fourth annual Baby Cooper Memorial Blood Drive held March 19 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
Cooper was barely seven months old when he lost his battle with Noonan syndrome in 2012. The disease is a genetic disorder that attacks the body in many ways. Part of Cooper’s fight was against leukemia and he received multiple blood transfusions. His parents Clinton and Beth Newton of Cambridge City traditionally organize the Baby Cooper Day blood drives with Community Blood Center to mark his March 22 birthday.
“To us, it’s a birthday celebration, like we would do for any of our kids” said Beth.
On a Saturday morning with snow flurries in the air, support for the baseball-themed “Our Angel in the Outfield” celebration was heart-warming. Family, friends and community members filled St. Paul’s gym and the donor beds. The blood drive registered 92 donors and resulted in 73 donations for 109 percent of the collection goal.
“It’s nice to see some different faces each year, and to see the same ones coming to the blood drive,” said Clint.
Cooper’s brothers Gavin and Gunner (ages 11 and 9) took batting practice in the hallway with the inflatable baseball bats and balls party decorations. Clint and Beth took turns holding daughter Campbell while handing out hotdogs and popcorn in the ballpark-themed Donor Café.
The family creates custom t-shirts as donor gifts for the blood drive. This year they chose a favorite line (“You’re killing me, Smalls!”) from the “Angels in the Outfield” movie to feature on a long-sleeve baseball t-shirt with the number “4” on the back for Cooper’s fourth birthday.
The Newton family has continued to grow along with the Baby Cooper Day blood drive. Beth was pregnant during the 2014 Baby Cooper Day, and daughter Campbell will be two in July. The family began the blood drive during a time of great sadness, and the celebration remains bittersweet.
“It never ends,” Beth said about the mourning for their son. “I don’t know if makes it easier. We like talking about him, and telling stories about him. That keeps him alive.”
The family continues to support the Noonan Syndrome Foundation to help raise awareness about the disease. Beth is a vice president at West End Bank in Richmond and helped organize a recent event that raised $600 for the foundation.
Beth said one of Saturday’s donors wanted to meet her “because she too had lost a child too.” Clint’s fellow baseball coach Tom Mettler came to support the blood drive. Rick Dixon from Dublin donated with his son Tyler, a student at Lincoln High School. “It makes me proud, especially when my children want to donate,” said Rick. “It makes me happy, a proud papa.”
Sherry Amyx from Richmond made her 64th lifetime donation Saturday. “I have 14 grandkids, so I’m always interested in kids,” she said. “It’s very sad, but it’s awesome. I don’t know why more people don’t donate.”
After a busy morning of hosting the blood drive, Clint was the last to donate. He reached his milestone eighth lifetime donations, the equivalent of one gallon. Spring is always a busy time in the Newton household, especially this year with Clint coaching both Gavin and Gunner on the same baseball team. “It can be tough, but we have to keep going.” he said. “We have a good reason to do it.”
Cooper, their “Angel in the Outfield,” is more than a teammate, he’s also their coach.
“Cooper is always our teacher,” said Beth. “He taught us patience and how to really be thankful. Giving people awareness not just of Noonan’s but blood donations. A lot of people do it just for him. He continues to teach us.”