Way back in 1982 I celebrated my seventeenth birthday by dragging my mother to the Red Cross so she could give her permission for me to donate. I remember touching the bag afterwards and thinking that I had just saved someone’s life. I was committed to donating as soon as allowed and doing it for the rest of my life, it was my way of returning the favor for the blood that had saved my little sister’s life. If you start at 17 and donate every 56 days until you hit 76 years old you’ll have donated 48 gallons and potentially saved over 1,000 lives. Save over 1,000 lives just by sitting down quietly for an hour every other month. How amazing is that? I could never have known that day just how important blood donations would be to me.
For the next 12 years I donated (primarily platelets) consistently, with time outs for illness once in a while, sometimes as often as every 3 days. (Being both O negative and CMV negative is a rare and precious thing.) Almost always those donations were going to cancer patients. In a distant, detached way I liked that I was helping them fight but did not yet grasp fully what that meant. In 1992 my uncle was diagnosed with diffuse mixed cell lymphoma, stage four…that’s about as bad as it gets. After some truly horrific experimental treatments he was deemed a ready candidate for a bone marrow transplant. The crushing sadness a year later when the bone marrow stopped working I thought would forever be the hardest thing I ever went through. At the end my uncle was getting blood transfusions every three days to keep himself going, then even that was not enough. I thought then that I understood the importance every single blood donation. I did not.
In 2007 after six years of living with an untreatable type of leukemia my husband needed his first blood transfusion. And I began to see… There were no blood donors in Alaska that matched Bill’s blood type. It took them three days to find a donor in another state and get the blood to us. It seemed miraculous that he went from pale and too weak to walk to vibrant pink and healthy looking right before my eyes. In those early days he averaged one transfusion a month. That changed over time and like my uncle by the end of his life Bill was getting transfusions of red cells (sometimes platelets too) every few days. A year or so after he died I came across my old appointment calendar and sat and counted. Just counting the ones I had remembered to write down, which misses most everything that happened in the ER or while hospitalized, he received 642 units of blood.
Six hundred and forty-two times Bill’s life depended entirely on strangers.
On people willing to walk through a door and say, “I’d like to donate.”
As each season with Team in Training begins I look at the team and see two things. Amazing people committed to making a difference in the lives of others and strong healthy bodies filled to the brim with very precious cargo, blood. I wonder how many of them have ever donated and if they really understand just how much a cancer patient’s life depends on donated blood to keep them strong enough for the treatments that will save their lives. An average season is time enough to donate twice, I challenge all of you to do it at least once. Choose to make saving lives a routine part of your life, there is no greater gift. Because the rarest blood type is the one not on the shelf when it’s needed.
Take a moment today and visit http://www.redcross.org/blood to learn more about donating blood. Then go one step further and visit http://www.bethematch.org and learn about joining the Bone Marrow Registry you just might be the cure someone is praying for today.