By Mary Brant, Regional Communications Manager
It seems inevitable that Moultonborough, New Hampshire resident Susan Doherty-Funke would end up volunteering with the American Red Cross. Her life and the organization’s mission have crossed paths many times.
Susan’s earliest Red Cross memory was of her father. Ed Doherty was a Philadelphia police officer with a very rare blood type – AB negative. As a little girl, Susan recalls her dad being asked to donate blood to help a pregnant woman, with that same rare blood type, who was sick. Being a police officer with a strong sense of duty, he prioritized regular donations to ensure the woman had the blood needed for a safe pregnancy. At the time, Susan didn’t fully understand what was happening, but she knew her father had something special in his blood that helped the woman in need. That special, meaningful memory still sticks with her today.
Years later, as a college student, Susan’s biology professor had the class test for their individual blood types. She was A-negative – and the teacher offered the cryptic warning, “Never marry a positive man.” She wasn’t thinking about getting married and promptly forgot about it.
When pregnant with her first daughter, Susan was diagnosed with RH disease which occurs during pregnancy. It’s when there is an incompatibility between the blood types of a mother and her baby. Susan was Rh negative, her babies—Sarah followed a few years later by Alyssa—were both Rh positive. This caused Susan’s body to produce antibodies that crossed the placenta and attacked her babies’ red blood cells. Suddenly, that early warning from her professor became very real.
Both daughters were premature births, and due to the RH disease, were extremely anemic and jaundiced. They required blood transfusions to survive those first days of life. Baby daughter Sarah received five transfusions and Alyssa, diagnosed with anemia in utero, required five in-vitro blood transfusions to make her blood more friendly to her mother’s blood type.
Fortunately, the blood was on the shelves and ready to go when Susan’s babies were born and needed its lifesaving power. Now both Sarah and Alyssa are healthy, active adults.
Up until giving birth to her first child Susan, like most of us, hadn’t given a lot of thought to blood, “Where does it comes from? Why is it so important?”
But she was destined for another crisis that would cause her to think about those questions and make the Red Cross mission part of her life.
In January 2001, Susan was involved in a major car accident. She was in the intensive care unit for three days. Blood transfusions kept her alive while she waited for her surgeon to close a deep laceration with a new, untested surgical procedure that would allow her to keep part of her spleen. The procedure was considered “risky” at the time, but with her doctor’s skill and lifesaving blood from generous, volunteer donors, she survived.
Susan grew up in a family with a strong sense of duty. For her, volunteering her time and talents is second nature.
“You don’t really think about what the Red Cross does until you need them,” said Susan. “But when you need them, you’re awfully glad they are there. I’m proud to be part of this organization that has touched my life so many times. For everyone reading this with time to spare, please consider volunteering. For me it was this or knitting. This is a lot more interesting and rewarding!”
For more information on becoming a blood donor, visit: RedCrossBlood.org – or to learn more about Red Cross volunteer opportunities in your area, visit: RedCross.org/VolunteerNNE.