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First Baptist member organizes blood drive at church

Friends, from left, Jessica Murphy Ward and Marla Walker stand in the lobby of the First Baptist Church of Conyers. Walker has helped organize a blood drive at FBC on Sept. 15 in honor of Ward, who suffers from severe Crohn's Disease and heart disease.

Friends, from left, Jessica Murphy Ward and Marla Walker stand in the lobby of the First Baptist Church of Conyers. Walker has helped organize a blood drive at FBC on Sept. 15 in honor of Ward, who suffers from severe Crohn's Disease and heart disease.

Marla Walker suffered from incredible pain when she limped into the emergency room at Rockdale Medical Center a few months ago. The busy mother of two had dropped a computer tower on her leg and was in such discomfort she said she was speechless. That is until she saw her neighbor Jessica Murphy Ward white as a sheet and sitting in the ER.

"I told her she looked like she had seen a ghost," Walker said. "When I asked what I could do for her, she said, 'Give me some of your blood.'"

Walker has taken that request and run with it. She is organizing a community blood drive in honor of her friend who suffers with Crohn's disease in addition to heart disease. The blood drive will be held at the First Baptist Church of Conyers on Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and donors will be entered into a drawing for a prize of $3,000. If the blood drive collects at least 45 pints of blood, another drawing will be held for four $25 gift cards.

Walker and Ward have been friends for a number of years and are neighbors in the Honey Creek community where both have children in the fifth grade at Honey Creek Elementary School. They are also friends at church.

It was Walker who invited Ward to come to her church. Ward and her entire family are now active in the church, which has been so helpful to both women.

"We were on really bad times," Walker said of when she and her family started going to FBC Conyers. "The people have been so warm and nice to my family. My husband and two boys have all been baptized. It is tremendous and overwhelming love from that church. And they have been so helpful in this for Jessica."

When Walker saw how desperate her friend was for blood, she knew she had to do something.

"I've always been gung-ho like my grandmother," she said. "I said, 'God, what can I do for her?'"

Walker said she loves Ward like a sister. The feeling is mutual. Ward said what Walker is doing is "amazing."

"She tries to help everybody," Ward said. "She was the one who got me to going to church there."

Blood types of all kinds are needed for the blood drive and Ward said the blood will go to help many people, not just her. The Red Cross processes the blood before distributing it to those in need.

Ward was certainly in need that night in the ER when she required three pints of blood.

The 29-year-old mother of two was diagnosed with Crohn's disease while she was pregnant in 2009. She lost the baby at 20 weeks. She was diagnosed with heart problems in 2010.

In two years' time, Ward has had six blood transfusions. A normal blood count is in the 12 to 13 range and Ward has been as low as a 6.8.

"I've had a rough couple of days this past week, but I'm pushing through it," she said.

Thanks to her good friend, she knows the pints collected in the upcoming blood drive will help her and others in need of life-saving blood.

Ward and Walker have been close friends since their two oldest children started kindergarten together. Ward and her husband Mike are the parents of Hailey, 11 and Brantley, five months old. Walker and her husband John stay busy with their sons John, 10 and Aaron, 8.

Both women also love their church and express gratitude for the church hosting the Red Cross blood drive.

Walker is in the choir at the church and has been one of the soloists in FBC's annual Living Christmas Tree. She will also perform the National Anthem at Honey Creek Elementary School during a special 9/11 observance next month.

Ward, who grew up in Conyers and went to both Rockdale and Heritage high schools, said she is thankful for her good friend and hopes everyone will come out and donate blood.

For a blood donation appointment, go to http://www.redcrossblood.org/. The sponsor code is fbccc, or sign up at the church located at 2100 Ga. Highway 138 in Conyers.

Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, call Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.