USM student survives rare disorder with 298 blood transfusions

Posted Sept. 03, 2012, at 12:59 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 04, 2012, at 7:29 a.m.

Upcoming blood drives:

  • Sept. 4: Houlton Regional Hospital, noon-5 p.m.; Community Market, Thorndike, 2-7 p.m.
  • Sept. 5: Orono Church of Universal Fellowship, 2-7 p.m.
  • Sept. 6: Verso Paper, Bucksport, 11:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.; First Church of the Nazarene, Skowhegan, 1-6 p.m.
  • Sept. 8: Bar Harbor YMCA, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • Sept. 10: Belfast VFW, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; North Searsport United Methodist Church, 2-7 p.m.
  • Sept. 12: Eastern Maine Community College, Bangor, 10 a.m.-3p.m.; Maine School of Science and Mathematics, Limestone, 2-7 p.m.
  • Sept. 14: MaineGeneral Medical Center, Waterville, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Gentle Memorial Building, Houlton, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Rachel Miller wasn’t expected to live past her second birthday. Today, the 20-year-old Portland woman is in her junior year at the University of Southern Maine, thanks to blood donations that helped her to survive an exceptionally rare disease.

A bone marrow transplant from a Wisconsin donor she affectionately calls “Uncle D” saved her life. But Miller will never know the names of the donors behind the 298 blood transfusions she received over her years of treatment and recovery from familial erythrophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, or FEL.

Today, Miller holds the distinction of having received more blood transfusions than anyone else living in Maine, according to the American Red Cross.

“My family and I personally know how important it is to have blood available when it is needed,” Miller said. “It is an honor for me to be the public face and voice for those patients who are depending on blood right now.”

Her mother, Diane Miller, recalls checking with hospitals daily to make sure they had sufficient blood supplies for her young daughter.

“I remember thinking, what would I do if they said no?” she said.

The American Red Cross is facing a critical need for blood donations nationally as the summer comes to a close. A blood drive in Miller’s honor was scheduled Saturday in Lewiston.

An emergency appeal in June temporarily slowed a decline in blood donations, but July marked the lowest number of donations at the Red Cross since 1996.

“Anyone who gave blood at the start of summer may be eligible to donate again as summer comes to a close,” said Michael Kempesty, CEO of the Red Cross’ northern New England blood services region.

Donated blood and platelets are used to treat accident and burn victims, organ transplant patients and other health conditions.

Diane Miller considers everyone who donated blood to her daughter, who’s studying to become a teacher, part of Rachel’s miraculous survival.

“My daughter would not be alive if it was not for all of those people who donated blood for her,” she said.

Eligible blood donors are asked to call 1-800-RED CROSS or visit to find a blood drive and to make appointments.