The blood transfusions that saved a life

Photo: The Associated Press
Posted Aug. 31, 2011, at 9:28 a.m.

Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs a blood transfusion. On July 6, 2004, I was one of these people.

One month after graduating from Maurice J. McDonough High School in Charles County, Md., I was coming home from swim practice and was involved in a nearly fatal car accident with a dump truck. The injuries were catastrophic. The impact of the crash violently ripped my heart across my chest, shattered my ribs, clavicle and pelvis, collapsed my lungs, damaged pretty much every organ and drained my body of 60 percent of its blood.

After 14 lifesaving operations, 36 blood transfusions and 13 plasma treatments, I had lost 100 pounds and had to go to a rehab facility in Baltimore.

It was in this stage of my life that I reflected on my journey back to life and realized that there was a possibility that I could eventually leave the hospital and make a full recovery. Someday in the distant future, I could be healthy and normal again. And I made a promise to myself that if and when I left the hospital, I would use my background and experiences to make a positive impact in my community.

After spending a few months in a wheelchair, I took baby steps to walk on my own with a walker, then a cane and then with some assistance from my parents on each side of me.

It was a miracle that I could walk again, but I wanted to push even further and not only walk but run. After I accomplished that, I wanted to get back in the pool again.

The human spirit is an amazing thing. After a few lung tests, I was able to go into the pool a little bit each week. Before the accident I had three goals upon graduating from high school: to go to college, swim on the team, and one day compete in an Ironman triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run).

After a couple months of swimming a few laps here and there, I decided that I was not going to let my injuries stop me from living my dreams, and six months after that I began my freshman year in college, where I swam on the team.

On Oct. 13, 2007, I competed in the Hawaii Ironman race — the best day of my life. After a very long and hot day out in the lava fields of Hawaii, crossing that finish line was like being given the breath of life all over again because it symbolized the completion of my recovery.

Surgeons and physical therapists and nurses and counselors all made it possible. But without the 36 units of blood I got, beginning when I arrived at the shock trauma center at Prince George’s Hospital Center in Maryland minutes after my accident and through my arduous treatment, I never would have made it. Every time I read or hear about an American Red Cross appeal for donors because the blood supply has gotten perilously low, I think of that.

Thirty-six blood transfusions. That’s 36 people who took an hour of their time to save the life of someone they would never know. When I compete in a race, it isn’t just me out there: There is also a team of many blood donors being represented, and crossing that finish line is my way of saying thank you for their gift.

Five years after my accident, I chose to celebrate my return to life with friends and family, in a more selfless way: I made my very first blood donation at the hospital that brought me back to life. As I gave blood, with all my nurses, surgeons and other hospital staff there to celebrate with me, I felt overwhelmed.

A few years ago I become a Red Cross volunteer. Here’s one of the things I always say: Blood donations are vital to people in emergency situations like mine, and summer is a critical time. Many blood donors are busy or traveling, yet accidents like mine, and other blood emergencies, never stop.

For nearly 5 million people who receive blood transfusions every year, a donation can make the difference between life and death. I am living proof of this.

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Brian Boyle lives in Southern Maryland and is a public speaker, mainly regarding the patient’s perspective on health-care issues. More information about the Red Cross Iron Heart Campaign can be found at www.redcrossblood.org/ironheart.

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