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Vancouver boy, dubbed 'Declan the Dinosaur,' leaves lasting legacy after cancer battle

Declan Reagan's love of dinosaurs earned him a personal message from Jurassic World star Chris Pratt. His mom hopes his legacy can help other kids battling cancer.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — In 2018, Chris Pratt, star of the movie Jurassic World, sent a video message to two young fans in Vancouver, Wash.

"Hi, my name is Chris Pratt and this video is for Adrian and Declan. I heard about the struggles you all are going through," Pratt said in the video.

Four-year-old Declan Reagan and his identical twin brother Adrian loved the Jurassic World movie and idolized Pratt, who played the main character named Owen.

In fact, Declan loved dinosaurs so much it earned him the nickname “Declan the Dinosaur.” He wore dinosaur pajamas, wore a dinosaur hat and his room was filled with every type of dinosaur imaginable.

The brothers were counting down the days until the next Jurassic World movie came out.

Even though they were super-fans, that wasn’t the reason why Pratt felt compelled to send them the personal message.

Declan's disease 

Two years earlier, Declan's family was preparing to leave on a family vacation when his mother Lauren Reagan noticed Declan had a red rash.

"He had these red spots, head to toe, like on his eyelids, completely," she said.

Lauren took Declan to urgent care.

"They were like, 'You need to get him to an emergency room now,'" Lauren said.

The spots on Declan's skin were something called petechiae — tiny purple, red or brown spots on the skin. At the hospital, tests showed Declan's platelet count was dangerously low. It measured at an eight; the normal range is 19 times that. Doctors gave Lauren the news no parent wants to hear: her son had cancer.

"The head of oncology is telling us our son has acute myeloid leukemia, which is extremely rare in children," she said.

Acute myeloid leukemia is a type of cancer that starts in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. Lauren had only 48 hours to go home and pack before Declan would spend the next 30 days in the hospital. The twins would be separated for the first time in their four years of life.

"Our family dynamic just changed overnight. You have to coordinate with friends and family and life just stops," she said.

Credit: Lauren Reagan

Over the next two years, Declan would have 76 blood transfusions, 108 platelet transfusions, eight rounds of chemotherapy and two bone marrow transplants. But through it all, he lifted others' spirits. Lauren smiled as she described Declan's joyous and rambunctious nature.

"Oh my God, he was a ball of joy. Declan had this loving caringness to him," she said.

It was a fellow cancer patient, 3-year-old Blake, who gave Declan his nickname.

"Blake would come in (to the hospital for treatments) every three or four weeks and would say, 'It's Declan the Dinosaur.' The nurses called him that, too," Lauren said

Credit: Lauren Reagan

Along his journey, Declan the Dinosaur partnered with the non-profit Bloodworks Northwest, which supplied blood from donors that kept him alive.

"We were at blood drives all the time. He called them his blood parties. He thought everyone who was there was there for him," Lauren said.

Declan was used to being poked with needles in the hospital, so he would often hold the hands of donors who needed a little bravery. 

Credit: Lauren Reagan

While he was in the hospital, Declan and his brother and other young cancer patients would play with Declan's dinosaur collection. They would pretend to save the dinosaurs, just like their hero Owen in the movie trailer for the upcoming movie Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

"We must have watched (the trailer) 80 or 90 times. It was like, yes, we are going to see this movie," she said.

Credit: Lauren Reagan

However, cancer had its own timeline. After his second bone marrow transplant failed, doctors told the family Declan had just two weeks to live.

Lauren was stunned. She couldn't help but think of how the movie Declan had his heart set on seeing wasn't due out for six more months. She wondered how she was going to get him to that movie.

Credit: Lauren Reagan

Pratt's message to Declan

Declan began hospice care and stopped cancer treatments, but he continued to receive blood transfusions twice a week. The Make-A-Wish foundation sent Declan and his family to Hawaii to see the Jurassic World movie set.

Word eventually made it to Pratt that one of his biggest fans was facing a real-life struggle. That's when Pratt sent the twins a video.

"I had a great time making the Jurassic World movie and I wanted to take a little bit of time out of my day to tell you I think you're great and I think you're special and you are in my thoughts and prayers and I love you," Pratt said.

Then something happened Lauren Reagan will never forget: the producers of Jurassic World called and said they were sending Declan a special advance version of the movie. He and his family would be the first fans in America to see the movie.

"I got a phone call. It's done. The movie. They've put the finishing touches on it. They're flying somebody in," she said.

The movie’s producers rented out the Liberty Theater in Camas just for the Reagan twins and their family to hold a private screening.

"I like to say we saw it before Chris Pratt did," Lauren said.

The movie showing was so top secret, Lauren couldn't tell anyone, and no video or photos were allowed. But it will live forever in Lauren’s memory.

"At the end of the day, Declan lived the most fulfilled life a 6-year-old could ever dream of, and he got to see that movie," she said.

Declan passed away a few weeks later on May 25, 2018, five months later that doctors had expected.

But that wasn't the end of Declan's story. Like his favorite movies, he had sequels to come that continue to inspire today.


Declan's legacy

During his final months, nearly 200 donors donated blood to help keep Declan alive, a priceless gift that inspired Lauren to change her own journey. She decided to leave her job in the hospitality industry and joined the team at Bloodworks Northwest.

"His story continues still today. That's why I am in the role I am. Such purpose because this community gave me five extra months with my son," she said.

She now works with the Bloodworks Northwest staff who became like family. She'd last seen many of them at Declan's memorial service, which was attended by 300 people.

"My first day was like coming home. It was like coming full circle," she said.

She's the community liaison and organizes blood drives throughout the community. The pandemic has made it more challenging since social distancing and other COVID protocols prevent Bloodworks Northwest from using traditional blood mobiles. Donors also must now schedule appointments.

Lauren helps to set up pop-up donor centers with community partners like the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce. She recently worked with the chamber's Executive Director, Jennifer Senescu.

"It's a great way to get people involved. It's a big deal. We have to have donors," Senescu said.

Before the pandemic, high school blood drives accounted for up to 20 percent of the blood supply for Bloodworks Northwest. However, those donations went away when high schools closed because of the pandemic. Lauren helped restart the first high school blood drive in nearly two years at Parkrose High School in Northeast Portland in early November.

"It's a big deal. We are beyond excited," Lauren said.

Volunteers from the school's health and sciences club helped staff the event. Students like Brent Buckles were eager to help with a donation.

"If my blood can save lives that will make my conscience from day to day a lot better," Buckles said.

John Yeager, a spokesman for Bloodworks NW, said they are barely able to keep up with the demand for blood, especially when it comes to platelets, which were critical to extending Declan’s life.

“Imagine what that would mean to somebody like Declan. Those five months would not have come if we wouldn’t have had platelets on hand to give him,” Yeager said.

Credit: Lauren Reagan

Yeager said the local blood supply is short, and the platelet supply is at critically low levels. Like many industries, the nonprofit is facing a staffing shortage and can’t find enough phlebotomists to draw blood.

Social distancing requirements also make the process more difficult and people are canceling appointments at an alarming rate, Yeager said.

'If I can give a mom just one more day with her child'

Lauren's wish is to see the younger generations become regular and life-long blood donors. She never misses an opportunity to give blood as often as is allowed — every 56 days.

"I have lived a lifetime in those five months that all those generous donors gave us. I can never say thank you enough. If I could give a mom just one more day with her child," she said.

As she gives blood, Lauren is always reminded of her sons, Declan and Adrian. Tattooed on her left arm, the arm she uses to give blood, a mama dinosaur and her two baby dinos.

Credit: Lauren Reagan

"I wanted it facing me so I could see it as a constant reminder of why I am doing this. All those donors gave me the gift of time," she said.

Like the dinosaurs he loved, Declan left a lasting impression long after he left this earth — and a reminder that giving blood is one of the best ways to help humankind.

To give the gift of life and donate, you can make an appointment with Bloodworks NW here. 

For businesses that would like to partner with Lauren on a pop-up community blood drive or a high school blood drive, you can contact Lauren at lreagan@bloodworksnw.org.