Childbirth can be scary for any first-time mom, but a day before Halloween in 2020, Tiffani Cole got an even more terrifying shock.
After delivering her son three weeks early due to preeclampsia, Tiffani was told her platelet count was dangerously low. Left untreated, preeclampsia—a condition that involves high blood pressure among other medical issues—can lead to serious — even fatal — complications for both the mother and baby. But once the baby arrived, her blood pressure returned to normal; her platelet count did not.
The doctors at St. Elizabeth Hospital in O’Fallon, IL, were trying to figure out what was causing the problem, so Tiffani stayed hospitalized as they ran tests. Releasing Tiffani could have been life-threatening, and at the time, COVID 19 cases were surging across the nation and world. Finally, the medical team determined that Tiffani had HELLP (Hemolysis, Elevated Liver Enzymes and Low Platelets) syndrome. This rare, life-threatening pregnancy complication is a variant of preeclampsia.
“I was lucky that doctors caught everything when they did and even more important, that I was able to receive one unit of blood when I delivered my son Marshall,” she recalled. “That unit of blood essentially saved my life. I felt at that point, I had gone full circle – receiving blood after asking for so many people to donate blood for so many years.”
In fact, asking people to donate blood is Tiffani’s career. For the past seven years, Tiffani has served as Account Manager for Donor Recruitment at the American Red Cross Central Blood Services Division in St. Louis. She recruits coordinators and finds organizations and individuals willing to host blood drives and then trains everyone on how to run the drives. Tiffani also visits high school classes throughout the St. Louis region, talking to students about donating blood at their high school drives. She uses her own story, and others, as evidence of the life-saving importance of donating.
Tiffani joined the Red Cross after running blood drives throughout her college years at Lindenwood University, where she won both a scholarship to play volleyball and a Red Cross/NAIA scholarship.
National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., is a governing body of small athletics programs that are dedicated to character-driven intercollegiate athletics.
As a scholarship recipient, Tiffani was sent to Washington, DC, to spend a week at the Red Cross national headquarters learning all about running blood drives and networking to attract donors. “It was a great experience,” she said. “I even met Gail McGovern (President and CEO of the nation’s American Red Cross).”
Tiffani adds that the combined sports-Red Cross role was natural for her. A volleyball stand-out at her high school, she grew up playing the sport. “It was pretty easy for me to play,” she says laughing. “A court was next door to my home in Chester, a southern Illinois town.”
Tiffani and her husband, Clint Cole, still live in Southern Illinois near her extended family in and around Chester. They are now parents to a second son—Sammy, age six months. Given her traumatic time in October 2020, Tiffani admits she was a bit worried about the delivering Sammy, however, Sammy’s arrival was seamless.