When it’s cold and icy outside or when it’s unseasonably hot, most of us prefer to remain indoors. We limit our outings to work, school and taking care of the necessities…like getting firewood or finding the nearest swimming hole! But many of you probably do not know where you are really needed---the local blood bank.
While watching the news a few evenings ago, a story about a shortage of blood grasped my attention and compelled me to take action. I wanted to help recruit blood donors. You see, if it were not for the generosity of blood donors, I would not be here today. It is that simple. I am living proof that blood donors save lives.
Just two weeks after my 23rd birthday, my entire life changed. The unexpected – the unthinkable actually happened to me. But thanks to seven blood donors that I refer to as angels, I am here to share my experience so that you, too, might become a donor. There is someone out there today that doesn’t know he or she will need a blood transfusion tomorrow. An innocent victim, as I was, will need your help to live.
On May 19, 1993, I underwent a “minor” exploratory surgical procedure called a laparoscopy – a “routine” surgery usually performed at an outpatient clinic. The doctor inserts a scope through a woman’s navel to explore her lower abdomen. I had had some problems and the doctors wanted to rule out anything serious such as endometreosis. I was apprehensive, but the doctor who gave a second opinion was in favor of the procedure and because of my previous problems, I viewed this as a preventative measure. I wanted to ensure that I would have children in years to come.
When I asked about the procedure, I was told, “It’s no big deal…they do these all the time. It’s like going to the dentist. It will be over in 45 minutes. You worry too much!”
I was like most women my age – extremely active. I worked full-time for an oil field servicing company, attended college full-time and was a religious education teacher at church. Ironically, one of my favorite duties at work included planning and coordinating blood drives. My personal goal was to recruit a minimum of five new blood donors with each blood drive and I was very successful for five years (about 10 drives=50 new donors!) When it was time for a drive at our office, the regular donors knew I’d be calling – and those who had previously given me an excuse knew I was working on a debate to persuade them to give this time around. It felt great to know that, in a small way, I was helping to save lives; however, I never imagined I would benefit from a blood drive like the ones I coordinated.
Like most people, especially as a young and healthy adult, I never dreamed I would need a blood transfusion. Transfusions were for sick people and I hadn’t been seriously ill a day in my life! Donating blood was something I viewed as a good deed—and I did it assuming someone else would benefit from my efforts.
Remembering the day of my surgeries is like remembering a movie that I’ve seen one hundred times. My memories are extremely vivid, the experience seems as though it happened to someone else and I was a mere bystander. Unfortunately, my scar is a constant reminder that it happened to me!
During the laparoscopy, the doctor noticed my blood pressure was dropping and thought it was a reaction to the anesthesia. The doctor concluded the procedure and sent me into recovery where I was to rest and stabilize. When my blood pressure continued to drop, the doctor realized I must be bleeding internally. She rushed me back into surgery.
I couldn’t believe it. Another surgery? What do you mean? This wasn’t supposed to happen! This procedure was so routine, it had been compared to a check-up at the dentist’s office. How and why do I have to go back into surgery? You’re going to cut me where? You said no scars! And what do you mean you don’t know what is wrong?
They wheeled me back into surgery and made an incision across the bikini line – the same incision when a woman has cesarean delivery. The doctor “looked in” and noticed a blood vessel on my abdomen wall was clotting on its own. The doctor assumed this was where the problem was and sent me to the recovery room again.
When I finally woke up I knew something was wrong. My blood pressure was still low at this point, and I kept telling the nurses and doctors that I didn’t feel right, that something was definitely wrong.
The doctor told me it was just the anesthesia and that I needed to rest. I remember being so thirsty I thought I would die. I begged for water, but all they would give me was one spoonful of ice chips and a wet washcloth. My mouth was so dry! Finally, after resting for forty-five minutes, the doctor was back. I told her that I was still not feeling well. She told me that I needed to move around at this point, to stand up and “walk it off.” Reluctantly, I got up.
As soon as I was up, I went back down. This time, they flipped the bed back and had me upside down. I learned later this was to get the blood that was left in my body to my brain to prevent brain damage. What the doctor didn’t know is that during the first surgery, the laparoscopy had perforated my left iliac artery (a major artery that transports blood from the aorta down to the femur. While I was lying down, my colon was resting upon the artery, applying enough pressure so that I hadn’t lost that much blood. But when I stood up, the colon was no longer applying pressure and the blood loss was rapid. I was close to a flat line!
Panic struck the recovery room. It was eerie to see and hear the medical staff in a panic and to know that they held my fragile life in their hands. It was also disconcerting knowing that this horrible dismay was over me. To hear them say, “We’ll do what we can to save her…” and “we don’t know what’s wrong…” – to be upside down, having nurses hitting the bottoms of my feet, searching for a pulse and trying to keep me talking. They asked, “Who’s the president?” “What year is it?”
Doctors and nurses surrounded my bed. One nurse jabbed and IV into my arm while another informed me, “I'm going to give you a foley!" I hollered back, “What’s a foley?”
Everything hurt as they poked and prodded. I turned to the anesthesiologist, “Please give me some drugs! I hurt so bad. I don’t want to hurt anymore!” There wasn’t any time for pain relief, but he was a very kind man and did his best to reassure me. Despite his words, I knew this was it. I knew I was going to die.
The medical team rushed me down the hall to an elevator… back to surgery! I happened to look to my left and saw someone from the Red Cross running in the back door, carrying blood. I knew it was for me. Distraught and frightened, I turned to the anesthesiologist and asked, “Am I going to die?” He looked at me, his face full of compassion, and said, “We won’t let you.” Out of the elevator and into surgery I went. The gas mask went over my mouth and nose and I closed my eyes.
For a moment, I saw nothing but darkness. But soon, there was a light breaking through. Not a tunnel, no out of body experience. Just a light that was shining out of what looked like a doorway. It was like a closet with the whitest light you could imagine blaring out of it, but it didn’t hurt to look at it. I was floating over this doorway of light looking down at it. I knew this was heaven. I was on my way! At that very moment, I remember talking to God, my words were, “God I am so tired. I cannot do this anymore. Take me.” I felt myself let go. As soon as I felt myself let go, the light was gone and I was awake. In recovery, a few hours later, my surgery was over! I survived!
A vascular surgeon was en route to the hospital only a few blocks away when he was paged to come to my rescue. He arrived at the clinic and performed a miracle that day! He had made an incision from just below my xyphoid down to the bikini line and began his search to find where and why I was bleeding. This person came in and took over. He found someone else’s error and saved my life!
I was transferred from the outpatient clinic to the hospital, where I would spend at least one night in the intensive care unit. Miraculously, it looked as though I would be all right after all. I remember lying on a gurney, heading down the hall and seeing my whole family, waving and cheering as I passed by. “When did they get here?” I thought to myself. They came after the first surgery. I had lost so much blood that it took a total of seven units, seven blood donors to replace what I had lost. Those next few hours were critical ones, but I made it!
I cannot help but wonder…what if the blood had not been available? What if those seven people hadn’t donated blood? On the news the other night, they showed a worker at the Red Cross sending six units of blood to an area hospital. He stated, “That’s all we have to send right now.” That really made the issue hit home. Remember, doctors needed seven units to save my life. What if there had only been six units available that day?
When I recruited blood donors for the drives at my work, many people gave excuses. “I just don’t have the time.”
“I’ll donate when it’s an emergency,” or “When someone I know really needs it, then I’ll give.”
You don’t have the time? You wouldn’t spend one hour to save someone’s life? My life? When it’s an emergency, when someone really needs it, the blood must be on the shelf or else it’s too late. If it hasn’t already been donated, the person will bleed to death. My entire family was there, they didn’t have time to take blood from a family member and run all of the mandatory tests. They cannot and will not even give you your spouse’s blood without running all of these tests! It must be ready to go when the emergency takes place.
There are seven people out there who took the time. They didn’t make excuses. They are not just heroes, they are my angels. Without their generosity, I would not be here. It is such an awesome feeling to know that seven people graciously gave me – a total stranger – the gift of life.
I am now a third grade teacher for the Northside Independent School District. I would not be here, able to make a difference in my students’ lives if seven people had not donated blood. It amazes me – what an impact these seven people have had – and they don’t even know it. It is inconceivable the number of lives they have touched by donating their blood – by making the time to save my life. I wish I knew their names. I wish I could thank them personally. How I would love to give each one of them a hug! My family, my friends, the one hundred forty students that I have taught in my five-year career would thank them!
Despite the negative memories of that day, I choose to remember the positive. Seven strangers gave me a second chance. No, not strangers. I may not have seen their faces or know their names - but their life, their blood flows through my veins. I will always be grateful to the surgeon who saved my life. However, without the blood donors, the surgeon couldn’t have helped me…no one could save me but the donors. It was their giving that was so crucial.
To all of the blood donors on this earth, I thank you! Please remember that you make a difference and that you truly are a lifesaver. And to those of you who have thought about it, but have never donated blood, please think about my story and my life. Think about how I could have been your daughter, your sister, your friend, your child’s third grade teacher! Wouldn’t you do what you could if you knew that person needed you? Wouldn’t you give one hour of your time if you knew it was going to save someone’s life? Well…it will.
When you give, you usually don’t know the person that you are saving, nor do you personally know the many people whose lives you touch. One never knows. It could end up that the life you touch is indeed your very own.
I’ve always believed in angels. I am very thankful to say that on May 19, 1993, God blessed me with seven of them!
To become a Red Cross blood donor, visit www.redcrossblood.org