“Blood! We need blood fast!” the doctor screamed. My blood pressure dropped to 60 over 30. I was in shock.
What started as a routine labor and delivery suddenly ended in terror. Within minutes after my son was born, I had lost almost a gallon of blood, more than half of my body’s total supply. I was near death.
The doctors worked furiously to save my life. But three other people also wouldn’t let me die. I would like to thank them, but I don’t know who they are.
These three strangers donated the blood that I received in emergency transfusions that terrifying July night 21 years ago. They cared enough to give one hour of time – and one pint of blood – to save another person’s life.
Today, I still honor the beneficent strangers who, perhaps in between leaving work and buying groceries, spent one hour giving blood, granting me a second chance to live.
Before this happened, I never gave much thought about donating blood. I made excuses that I was either too busy or, more precisely, too chicken. The thought that some day another person’s blood would flow through my veins never occurred to me.
According to the American Red Cross and National Blood Data Resource Center, about 4.9 million Americans received life-saving transfusions in 2001, the last year such data was available; eight million Americans donated about 15 million units of blood. But, this is only about 20% percent of those eligible to donate. The demand for transfusions is growing faster than donations; the volume of transfused blood increases about 6% a year.
After my narrow escape from death, I had no excuse. It became my turn to donate. I was relieved to discover how easy it is give blood. The prospective donor completes a brief questionnaire (to screen for AIDS and hepatitis, among other diseases), receives a mini-physical to ensure he or she is healthy enough to donate, and then gets the infamous needle.
It is quick and nearly painless: an average unit, about one pint, takes 10 – 20 minutes. That’s much less than the four to six hours it took for my transfusion. And the best part is saved for last: cookies, juice, or pop.
Some potential donors have been scared away by the unfounded fear of catching diseases simply by donating. That’s impossible. Every needle is sterile and is immediately discarded after each use.
The chances of receiving AIDS or hepatitis- contaminated blood are less than one in several hundred thousand. If I hadn’t received blood, I’d have died on the delivery table. Obviously, the issue is a moot point for me.
Each donation can save up to three lives. Through the years, I have donated more than 5 gallons of blood, meaning I have potentially saved up to 24 lives. What gives me an even greater rush is that I am CMV negative. CMV is a common virus carried by about half of the population. CMV negative donors are needed for CMV-negative patients, whose immune systems may be compromised, such as premature babies. Knowing that my blood may have saved the lives of preemies is exhilarating.
Five years ago, my local blood donating center, Hoxworth, notified me that my blood was contaminated and prohibited me from further donations.
After various blood tests, my doctor told me I was fine, adding that many of his patients also have received the same letter. My “contamination” may have resulted from a flu shot I received three weeks before my donation.
This deeply distressed me. Donating never felt like a chore or was that thing I squeezed into my schedule with guilt or trepidation. It was at the top of the to-do list, and everything else fit around it. I wasn’t just giving blood; I was giving life.
My two children – the ones I almost didn’t get to raise — now donate in my place. Blood gave me the gift of life; it gave them a mother. They’re just passing on the favor.
I hope that writing about my experience and debunking myths will reel in new contributors; they are always needed, especially during summer and winter holidays, when there are usually blood shortages.
I am living proof that giving blood really does save lives. To those three strangers who each gave an hour of their time to save my life – thank you. It’s the best gift I’ve ever received.