March 05, 2014
When I was a little girl, my mom worked at DeGraff Hospital. She always loved working with people and I recall how she would talk about the beautiful babies that she saw on her shift, or how nice this or that patient and their family was. I also recall Mom coming home with a bandaid on her inner arm a few times. I must have been about 9 when she came home one day with a bandaid and a little bruise. I asked what happened and she said that a patient needed emergency heart surgery while she was at work. There wasn't enough blood in reserve, so the hospital administrator asked if anyone was willing to give blood to help the patients. My mom said she gave some blood to help others. I thought that was rather odd, but at my young age I'm sure I just didn't know how one person's blood could help another person. I would find out on a cold, snowy day in February of 1973.
I was due to have my first baby on May 12th and the family was pretty excited at the impending birth of the first member of the next generation. My baby shower was scheduled for the following Sunday, February 25, 1973. On Monday, February 19th I had gone to my aunt's house to do laundry and spend time with my cousins. There was a lot of excited chatter about the new baby, the shower, names and decorating the nursery. It was just another day. I had no idea what the next hours would bring.
That afternoon I got a gnawing pain in my right side. I thought maybe I had twisted the wrong way while doing laundry and didn't think much of it. As time went on, the pain got worse and I couldn't ignore it anymore. I told my aunt; she told my husband to get me to the hospital. I'm not the type that makes a big deal out of little things, so I talked him into taking me home so I could nap. I don't know how long I slept, but when I woke up the pain was gone – until I sat up. Now there was no denying that something was wrong. My back hurt really bad and I couldn't stand up straight. We headed to the emergency room at DeGraff Hospital.
Once at the ER, my doctor determined that I had appendicitis and emergency surgery was necessary. I was rushed to the operating room and prepped for surgery. I remember talking to the doctor after the operation and asking "Is that what the problem was? Did you get it?" He said he removed my appendix and I should be fine now. I replied "That's weird because my back still hurts." The surgeon called my OB/GYN to come to the hospital immediately.
Before my OB could get to the hospital, I started to bleed. It was just a little trickle of blood now and then at first, but then it became a steady stream of blood. In terror, I realized something was wrong with the pregnancy and that I might lose the baby. I guess things progressed pretty quickly after that. I remember an anxious swirl of nurses, doctors and other medical people racing in and out of my room. I was moved from the surgical ward to the labor and delivery area. There was a pool of blood on the bed that was running onto the floor. I vaguely remember a nurse sticking my finger to type my blood for a transfusion. I don't remember anything after that until I woke up in the recovery room. My daughter had died and I was still in critical condition. I had suffered abruptio placentae, which occurs when the placenta lining separates from the uterine wall prematurely, causing severe hemorrhaging. It's not a common occurrence, but when it happens it can be catastrophic.
I remember my mom arriving at the hospital after her almost 2 hour drive in the winter weather to get to me. She rushed into the recovery room where I was crying hysterically and hooked up to 2 simultaneous transfusions. I was still in pretty bad shape, but the doctors assured my husband and my mother that I was going to make a full recovery, thanks to the availability of blood for the transfusions. My mom wanted to donate blood right then and there to replenish what I had used, but she was assured that it was okay and that replenishment wasn't needed right that minute.
Losing my daughter, Tammy, was one of the hardest things I've ever gone through. But in that loss I learned the importance of blood donations. Had it not been for the blood being available for transfusion that night, I would not have survived. The sense of gratitude is something that just can't be put into words.
It took me a while to recover and get my head straight, but several years down the road I caught a blurb on the local news asking the public to help with blood donations. I thought, "I have to do that". I made an appointment and started my campaign to pay back the world for saving my life. I've donated blood regularly for more than 35 years now, and will donate until I can't do it anymore.
In late 1976, I received a call from DeGraff Hospital. A new baby had been born and was in distress. The baby needed surgery to survive and the blood supply was low. Would I be willing to come in and donate? Of course!!!
By then I had two beautiful little girls and couldn't imagine not helping someone else's baby find a way to a healthy life. When my younger sister found out that I was donating blood to help a baby, she tagged along and donated blood as well. I never knew the particulars of the baby or the outcome, but just knowing we made an effort to help was satisfying.
My children have always known about the loss of their oldest sister, and how the blood donations of anonymous strangers saved their mother's life. Since the day they turned 16, my daughters have donated blood regularly. We know that taking half an hour of our time to donate blood could mean someone else will live a full life.
I now have 4 children, 12 grandchildren, and 1 great-grandchild. Those who donated the blood that I received can know that, because they gave blood without hesitation, an entire family was built. I can't thank them enough.
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