June 21, 2012

Wheeler: Give the gift of blood this summer

Rex Hospital’s Save Our Summer blood drive aims to beef up the blood supply at a time when donations are low and needs are high.

Today, I’m going to give blood.


For the first time.


A small thing, you say?

Let me tell you how it always goes when someone gets near me with a needle.

Most recently, I broke a tooth eating chicken salad (bone-in, apparently) from a local market. At an oral surgeon’s office a few days later, the receptionist said I had chosen, at the initial consultation, general anesthesia for the tooth’s removal.

No, I certainly didn’t, I said. I can handle shots, but I haven’t had anything to drink for 12 hours, and there’s not a needle-wielding person on the planet who could find a vein on me right now. No one ever – ever – has been one-poke perfect for me.

You can discuss it with the surgeon when you go back, she said.

Once in the chair, I had no fight in me given my pain and anxiety. “If y’all are going to try to put a needle in me,” I told the nurse, “just start with the one on my wrist. You’re going to end up there anyway.”

Apparently I was speaking in foreign tongues.

The surgeon’s first poke, dig and miss? Crook of right arm.

Next miss? Right hand.

Next miss? Right hand again, an inch over. Are you kidding me?

Where did the needle end up? Left wrist.

Save Our Summer

Today, however, when I squeeze my eyes shut at Rex Hospital’s Save Our Summer blood drive, my mind will go not to my fear but to Teresa Randall. I will picture the Fuquay-Varina mother having to watch her 20-year-old son, Jacob, battle T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma.

I will remember how she kept apologizing for getting emotional as she told me how much the blood transfusions that Jacob received over the course of his treatment from October to March literally put life back into her boy.

“You can’t describe it,” she said. “You can’t put into words watching your child lay there, lifeless, but when they receive the blood and you see them perk up and it nourishes their body in the ways it needed, you’re so grateful, so appreciative of the time someone took to donate.”

Jacob, a Holly Springs firefighter, needed blood 10 times when his disease caused his hemoglobin and white blood counts to drop, making him feel unbelievably weak.

“I would go from feeling really crummy and not willing to continue with my treatments to getting blood and feeling great and wanting to go on,” said Jacob, who is in remission now. “I won’t ever be able to thank donors how I want to. They essentially gave me life. There’s no way to repay that, I don’t believe.”

Additional inspiration

Because it’s June, the Triangle’s blood supply is low. Just when summer accidents proliferate, regular donors are vacationing, and plasma-selling college students have gone home. Rex hopes to have 200 donors at its drive Friday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Need more inspiration? Raleigh’s Emily Castrodale McGaffin, the first person to donate 50 gallons of blood or plasma to Rex, is 81 years old and still gives about every two weeks.

Most often these days, she donates her platelets in a process that takes more than an hour. In the past year, she has taken to eating collards and other leafy greens just to keep up her hemoglobin so that her blood won’t be turned down.

“It’s just the way I live,” she said. “I love people, and I like to do things for people. It’s just my nature. It’s such a pleasure.”

Pleasure might be a bit beyond my reach today, but I’ll be happy if my A-positive present helps ease another’s pain.

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