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New Year, New Blood

This time of year, many of us have fully embraced or completely abandoned newly set goals. We pat ourselves on the back or move on to other, seemingly more pressing projects. Getting kids back in the swing of school, delivering that budget presentation to your boss, or remembering to take the car in for an oil change are among the mountain of items on the to-do list. It likely doesn’t cross one’s mind to schedule time to donate blood. In fact, nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, but less than three percent do.

In January, my family starts getting excited about my daughter’s upcoming birthday. She’ll turn nine this February. Over dinner we remark how much she’s grown and discuss what would she like for a gift. I reflect how fortunate I am to have these normal interactions with my family. My daughter’s birth was exceptional especially for me. I wasn’t expected to survive the harrowing experience, but I did, in large part, due to the kindness of strangers.

Nearly nine years ago I went to the hospital to have a baby. I had an uneventful pregnancy – a little nausea and heartburn and an aching back.  I was very healthy and had a huge belly. I knew she would be a large, healthy baby. Like most moms-to-be I was anxious about childbirth but excited to meet my baby girl. I don’t remember much after checking in to the hospital. I do remember my husband lugging in my bags with the baby’s clothes and everything I thought I might need – slippers, pjs, music, lip balm, books?  After that, I only can remember things I said the next morning, such as “I feel a lot of pressure. I feel like I’m going to be sick.”

After days of several major surgeries, blood transfusions, and grim moments, I woke up to learn that I had an amniotic fluid embolism, a rare and life-threatening complication that caused cardiac arrest and uncontrollable bleeding. My daughter had a traumatic birth requiring time in the NICU but was doing well by the time I came around. I also learned that the unrelenting efforts of the medical staff, the availability of nearly 300 units of blood and blood products, and the unwavering love, support, and prayers of family, friends, and strangers all contributed to a positive outcome for me.

I survived. I would not have survived without the blood and blood products on hand at the hospital and the Bonfils Blood Center (now DBA Vitalant). The normal human body contains a little more than five liters of blood. I required the equivalent of 30 gallons of blood over the course of several days.

In 2016 I had the honor of meeting 30 of the more than 300 individuals whose blood donations saved my life. It was a truly special opportunity to meet those who gave and never expected to meet a person who received their blood.  During my last few days in the hospital, it started to sink in for me that I received a lot of blood – a lot, from hundreds of individuals.  At first, I felt a little strange – will I be a different person, my hair felt a little thicker. I thought I should really try to be a better version of me. A miracle occurred. What a special gift to receive from so many strangers.  Soon I realized the real gift is that I get to just be me, imperfect me – a co-worker, a friend, a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a niece, a cousin, an aunt, a wife and a mother of a smart, beautiful girl.

Honestly, before I required life-saving blood transfusions I didn’t think much about blood donation. I remember first donating blood in high school and that’s about it. Blood donation saves lives. If you can donate blood, I encourage you to start this new year with the easily achievable goal of donating blood or blood products. Many blood drives have been canceled due to COVID-19, so individual blood donations matter now more than ever. Whether you’re eligible to give whole blood or recovered from COVID-19 and can donate convalescent plasma, you are saving lives.