Who You’re Helping
Heather Berry sums up her feelings after her son Marquez was diagnosed with Wilm’s tumor, a kidney cancer, just after his first birthday: “Nothing in this world could prepare anyone for the words ‘your baby has cancer.'”
Heather considered their case lucky: Marquez’s cancer was stage one. Ten days after his initial diagnosis, he received his first blood transfusion during a six hour surgery to remove the tumor and kidney, which seemed nonexistent behind the massive growth. Little Marquez also received a port in his chest for the 22 weeks of chemotherapy treatment that lie ahead. As doctors operated, “more than two pints of someone else’s blood was keeping him alive,” Heather explained.
Two months into chemotherapy, Marquez was sleepy, sluggish, and pale. Another transfusion aimed to bring back his energy. “Within an hour of his transfusion, the color returned to his face and he perked right up, ready to fight another day!” Heather said. “It was unbelievable. That was the exact moment I realized how important blood donation was.”
Marquez is now a cancer survivor, almost three years into remission!
“I was told that in most cases, someone with the amount of injuries I had sustained would not make it through the night due to blood loss,” Cale explained of his harrowing life and death experience in 2017.
One July day, the delivery truck Cale was driving near Fort Dodge, Iowa was rolled when a tractor trailer ran a stop sign at an intersection. Cale’s injuries were devastating and numerous: a broken tibia, snapped femur, fractured pelvis, lacerated left elbow, and catastrophic flesh wounds to his left leg, leading to critical blood loss. “The hole on the outside of my left thigh was large enough for the surgeon to fit his hand into. In the ambulance to Fort Dodge, the paramedics were literally squeezing the bags of blood to pump the fluid into me to keep me alive.” Cale said.
His injuries were so extensive that paramedics had to resuscitate Cale en route to Fort Dodge and then again in an air ambulance as he was life-flighted to a hospital in Des Moines. In the first 24 hours following the crash, Cale received 15 units of blood; more than the average human body holds.
All in all, Cale underwent four surgeries in two weeks and is whole again. “If it weren’t for all of those units of blood, I wouldn’t be here. Thanks to the doctors, the emergency workers, the nurses, and all the donations from good people, it was possible,” he said.
Blood donation is a regular part of the Nehring family’s lives; Mark has been a blood donor and blood drive chairperson, and he and his wife Kelsey have experienced the life changing nature of a blood transfusion when it drastically improved their daughter’s life at an early age.
Kelsey Nehring delivered baby Kaylee via emergency C-section at 32 weeks after doctors noted fetal distress. After a few weak cries, Kaylee was rushed to the neonatal intensive care center where she would spend the next eight weeks of her life. For weeks, she struggled against slow heart rate and apnea, a lack of breathing. Doctors told Kelsey and Mark that those problems would eventually resolve themselves, but the issues persisted and tests failed to provide a solid diagnosis for their daughter’s issues.
At six weeks old, Kaylee’s lab values were low and her skin was pale. A blood transfusion was ordered. Scared at the notion but hopeful, Kelsey and Mark stood by as the medical team started what they called the “pick me up” baby Kaylee would need to start functioning normally.
“I will never forget the first time I saw her after her first blood transfusion,” Kelsey explained. “She finally looked like a normal, healthy baby and I cried. I had gotten used to how sick and fragile she looked and I didn’t realize just how sick she was until I saw the healthy glow she had after she was given the gift of blood.”
Kaylee was discharged a few weeks later and is a sassy, healthy seven year old today.
“Words can never express how thankful we are for the loving person who took the time to donate a part of themselves for someone they would never meet,” Kelsey said. “Blood donation saved our child’s life and changed ours for the better.”
Elayna’s world was turned upside down in April 2014 when she was diagnosed with cancer. This strong girl has beaten the cancer into remission twice, but it has returned both times. Elayna is currently fighting her third battle thanks in part to blood donations.
With each relapse, treatment became more difficult for her body, but blood donations have given her the strength vital for carrying on. Elayna has received almost 30 blood and 40 platelet transfusions.
“I have literally wheeled her in for a blood transfusion and just a few hours later been blessed to be able to watch her skip all the way down the hallway on the way out,” said Elayna’s mother Lucy. “Receiving blood products is life-saving, and in the process it is also life-changing. It allows her to feel more herself during a time when she has lost so much of that. Blood product donation allows her to play with a friend, ride her bike, or play outside, when she otherwise could not.”
As long as there’s blood available, Elayna will continue to fight toward remission!
Twenty five units. That’s how much blood was needed to save Stella’s life during a 2016 medical crisis.
Stella has a rare neuromuscular disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or SMA. SMA weakens the body’s muscle systems, including the ability to swallow, digest food and breathe independently. Stella already defied the odds by smashing through doctors’ expectations that she’d only survive for a few months after birth. Though she has used a feeding tube, ventilator, spinal fusion surgeries and infusions to keep her strong, Stella has remained bright and brave.
In September of 2016, things changed. Stella suddenly dropped into an extremely critical health crisis and was life-flighted to Iowa City. It was determined she had blood clots in her heart and lungs. Since Stella was already a medically fragile child, the news devastated her family. Stella was placed on ECMO, a prolonged heart-lung bypass for critically ill patients with severe but reversible respiratory failure. A surgery helped to manually remove the blood clots, but doctors found that her struggle wasn’t over. Her kidneys and liver were failing, too. Through dialysis and treatment of those 25 units of blood, Stella pulled through.
“We can’t express how thankful we are to the many blood donors who saved our sweet girl,” Stella’s mom Sarah said.
In the summer of 2014, CarrieAnn learned she was pregnant with her sixth child. As pregnancy progressed, she was diagnosed with complete placenta previa, put on bedrest, and a cesarean section was scheduled. Spontaneous labor kicked in a month early, however, and an emergency c-section was performed. A healthy baby boy was born, but CarrieAnn went into a rapid tailspin and began bleeding out.
Medical staff started a blood transfusion and rushed her to the emergency room. Doctors performed a complete hysterectomy, during which CarrieAnn received 12 units of blood. During recovery her breathing failed and organs began to shut down. She was transferred to the ICU, where the bleeding started again. Another 3 units of blood were transfused.
Today, CarrieAnn is alive and well thanks to the blood donors who donated time to save her life. “My 4 year old son often tells me ‘Mom, I am so glad those strangers shared their blood with you so didn’t die,’” CarrieAnn explained. “When I talk to my children I always tell them how thankful I am for blood donors.”
Lincoln was born in September of 2012. He was happy and healthy but had what his parents thought was eczema on this chest and in his diaper area. One evening when he was almost five months old, he spiked a high fever and the rash aggressively spread. An ER visit revealed that he needed a blood transfusion and had an enlarged liver and spleen. After many days of tests, he was diagnosed with Multiple System Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH) with Risk Organ Involvement.
Lincoln began chemotherapy right away; requiring a packed blood cell transfusion every other day and platelets at least once a day! On a few occasions, when platelets were in short supply, Lincoln would have to wait hours for his transfusions. In Lincoln’s case, he would sometimes have nose bleeds when his platelet counts were dangerously low.
Lincoln’s doctors discovered that Lincoln’s spleen was likely the culprit for his body’s destruction of platelets. An open spleenectomy was scheduled, but in order to do this very risky surgery, the hospital had to secure several units of blood and platelets in anticipation of his blood loss and clotting needs.
Lincoln recovered remarkably well from his surgery and although his blood product needs reduced significantly, he still had regular transfusions as a part of his chemotherapy. It is estimated that Lincoln has needed 60 platelet transfusions and almost as many blood transfusions. This was all in a period of less than five months! The hematologist said that he has NEVER worked with a patient who needed so many blood products in such a short amount of time.
In January of 2017, a routine physical for stomach discomfort turned into a life-changing diagnosis for LifeServe Blood Center team member Corey. Tests revealed a tumor in his stomach that had spread to his esophagus. “It was stage 3 and went into stage 4,” Corey said. “It went undetected for years.” He had immediate surgery to remove the tumor, his esophagus, and fashion his stomach into a new esophagus. Corey received blood during surgery, which was a success.
“I’ve worked in the blood business for 15 years now and the need for blood, all blood products are a necessity,” Corey said. He’s undergoing chemotherapy now and is journeying toward wellness thanks to his doctors and generous blood donors!
Megan’s story began in November 2014 when she was 23 weeks pregnant with her third child: her first son, Evan. Around midday she rushed to the emergency room with spontaneous bleeding and was immediately admitted. Hospital staff told Megan and her husband that labor was beyond the point of no return and their son was too young to survive outside the womb.
“Pretty soon after that we realized he was going to die,” Megan said. The labor process took nearly a day and she bled on and off throughout. As medical staff struggled to control Megan’s bleeding, her hemoglobin count plummeted and she received several transfusions. Eventually Evan was born. At that point, Megan tearfully explained, “we said goodbye to our son and went home.”
The heartbreak didn’t end there. A few days later Megan woke up with more bleeding. Back in the emergency room, doctors determined she had a rare uterine malformation that, in Megan’s case, caused life-threatening massive bleeding. Over the next five hours, an interventional radiologist utilized arterial embolization in an attempt stabilize her. During that process she received 12 units of red blood cells, 6 units of plasma, and 2 units of platelets. When she woke up in the ICU, she received even more blood.
Since then, Megan and her husband have welcomed baby Genevieve into the world. “She certainly doesn’t replace Evan, but she brings fresh joy to our hearts,” Megan said. ” I would like to say to the people who donate blood thank you. I wouldn’t be alive and nor would Genevieve be there.”
Selisia Schwarz thought her doctor would tell her to get more sleep when she scheduled an appointment for decreased energy and bruises that appeared out of nowhere. After a simple appointment and blood draw she headed home, but received a phone call that changed her life. Selisia had Aplastic Anemia, or bone marrow failure. The doctor instructed her to go to the nearest ER. She did and didn’t leave for over two weeks.
During her hospital stay, Selisia received blood products every other day to make up for what her bone marrow wasn’t producing. That’s where she experienced the need for blood. “I still remember the day I went in needing a transfusion immediately, but I had to wait over three hours. They didn’t have my type and were trying to find some,” Selisia explained. “I just sat there scared and worried; what happens if they don’t find any? I can’t afford to wait until the next day or day after that.” Fortunately, they received a donation of her blood type and Selisia received her transfusion by late afternoon.
“One pint of whole blood can save up to three lives,” Selisia said. “One of those lives was mine.”
Weighing in at 3 pounds 8 ounces, Elliott entered the world in April of 2010 with a condition called End Stage Renal Disease. He had virtually no kidney function. For three years Elliott underwent dialysis, also facing liver cancer and battling to become strong enough to be able to undergo a kidney transplant. In that short amount of time, he required 14 surgeries and received 16 separate blood transfusions to keep going and growing.
The day Elliott had been striving for arrived in 2013 when the long-awaited kidney transplant took place. Today, he’s healthy and by all means, a normal boy.
“He’s thriving. He’s doing amazing,” says Elliott’s mom Rachel. “He’s on his upward way in life and if it wasn’t for those transfusions, he would definitely have a different outcome. He wouldn’t be with us today.”
Mikayla Rietgraf was diagnosed with stage lV Ewings Sarcoma cancer when she was just 8 years old. The cancer was primarily located in her hip and the family received devastating news that it was inoperable. At the time of her diagnosis, Mikayla had a 20% survival rate. She underwent chemotherapy treatments for one year, spending over 80 days in the hospital. Following each treatment, Mikayla received units of blood and platelets which helped her to survive. Today, Mikalya is in remission thanks to many generous blood donors who selflessly gave of themselves to help others in need.
In 2013 Justin was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Strong chemotherapy wiped out his white blood cell and hemoglobin counts. He credited a blood transfusion with putting him back on his feet. “That was very important, don’t get me wrong, but I wish that was all I needed the service of donors for,” Justin said.
The cancer had spread. A tumor the size of two fists had fused to his spine and aorta. During surgery the tumor was chipped away bit by bit. Justin lost a considerable amount of blood. Seven units of blood were immediately transfused to save his life. The surgeon, who performs 150 of the same procedure every year, would later tell Justin’s parents that was the second worst case he’d ever seen.
“I know if I wouldn’t have gotten the donation that I did during my surgery, I wouldn’t have been able to survive,” Justin said. “I just married my beautiful wife last year. We adopted a cute little puppy dog together. I know none of this would have been possible had I not had the charities of some very generous people.”
At the tender age of two, Mason was diagnosed with two rare, life-threatening diseases that affect one in one million males.
During Mason’s battle he received a total of four lifesaving blood transfusions and a lifesaving bone marrow transplant to help him overcome the diseases.
Today, Mason is healthy and enjoys eating pizza and cereal, is obsessed with reptiles and could color or play with his dogs all day. Mason’s mom Tiffany also mentions that Mason likes to pick on his older brother!
“Blood donation has played an important part of saving our son’s life,” said Tiffany. “We have been faced with a lot of unknowns through our journey with Mason’s diseases, but one constant was that when we needed blood, we had access to it, because of generous blood donors. Now, that we use plasma-protein therapies on a monthly basis for Mason’s immune system, it is reassuring that LifeServe Blood Center does such a wonderful job making sure blood products available. Thank you, blood donors, for saving my son’s life!”
Lt. Col. Jerry Self
In 2008, Lt. Col. Jerry Self thought he had come down with the flu. After finding himself unable to get out of bed for three days, he visited his doctor and learned the shocking truth: Jerry had leukemia.
Five grueling rounds of chemo took its toll on Jerry, but it was the lifesaving blood transfusions that helped him stay strong so he could keep fighting the devastating disease.
“The chemotherapy for me was very taxing. I had a lot of weight loss, lost all my hair, was very tired, and had a lot of side effects associated with the chemo.”
During his battle toward health, Jerry received more than 40 units of blood, and felt healthier and more energized after each transfusion. Thanks to generous blood donors, today Jerry is cancer free, and is able to spend time doing what he loves best: spending time with his family.
Carson was an energetic 8-year-old nearing the end of the second grade when he found a bump under his chin. After multiple trips to the pediatrician, several examinations, antibiotics, and blood tests, Carson was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
During his fight, Carson received multiple chemotherapy and radiation treatments and several blood and platelet transfusions to help replenish his system so he could continue his fight. Today, Carson is in remission and doing extremely well thanks to the treatment and lifesaving blood transfusions he received.
Blood Donor Stories
As an O- blood donor, Stephen Hartwell always knew his donations were vital to the blood supply. He started donating after his time in the Army and continued to make his lifesaving gifts through the years, always enjoying his experience in the donor chair and especially the cookies afterward.
In 2017, blood donation turned the tables on Stephen and saved his life. A routine pre-donation screening at LifeServe’s Mason City Donor Center revealed frequent and significant skipped heartbeats. The screener urged Stephen to see a doctor as soon as possible.
He followed that advice and was referred to the hospital for testing, which revealed a heart issue requiring the implantation of a pacemaker. “My cardiologist said without that rapid intervention and procedure,” Stephen explained, “I wouldn’t have been around to see my oldest grandson graduate from high school that May.”
Today Stephen is thankful for the lives he’s saved and that his life was saved through blood donation. “I’ve always been on the donor side of the equation, but the staff at LifeServe Blood Center can add me to the count of lives saved through the services they provide,” Stephen said. “I went to Colorado to be there for my grandson’s graduation, I had a beautiful summer with my family, and I was especially proud in October when I returned to the Mason City LifeServe Donor Center and was able to make another double-red donation. Life is good!”
2 Gallon Donor
It’s the good feeling you get post-donation that LifeServe blood donor and volunteer Cindy credits with keeping her dedication to the blood donation cause going strong. “It was always nice knowing that I was helping someone,” she said of her life-saving habit.
Cindy never imagined that “someone” would be her mom. Cindy’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and received blood transfusions that always boosted her energy during her hospitalizations. “You could see the color return in her skin,” Cindy explained. “She would have an appetite, and most importantly it gave us another day with her.”
Sadly, Cindy’s mother lost her battle with cancer. As she mourned, Cindy knew there was a big way she could continue to celebrate her mother’s life. “I was so grateful, knowing the blood supply was available when she needed it most,” Cindy said. “I donate for those that are in need, and of course, I donate in memory of my mother.”
Blood donation runs through the veins of KCAU 9 News Anchor Tim Seaman’s family. It was his father, a multi-gallon donor, who motivated Tim to start saving lives. “I always had known how important it was and heard him talk about it often,” Tim said. Now he keeps a regular double red cell donation appointment.
Besides saving lives, Tim’s favorite part of donating blood is the LifeServe team. “The staff is so professional,” he said. “They really know their jobs and go out of their way to make it a good experience for you. It’s not just, ‘Hey, we’re glad you’re here because we need you.’ It’s ‘Hey, we haven’t seen you in a while! Glad to see you!'”
31 Gallon Donor
Dan began his blood donation career like many other donors, giving whole blood once or twice a year. But the more he donated and learned about the importance of giving blood, the more he felt the need to help. “Donating blood is easy for me to do and I know that there are so many people who I can help, it just seems like the right thing to do,” says Dan.
Dan is now an apheresis platelet donor and donates every month. In fact, it was through his frequent blood donations that he met his wife! Their motto has become “save lives and make a love connection!”
16 Gallon Donor
Personal experience with a life and death situation motivated Steve Thomas to become not just a blood donor himself, but a blood drive advocate.
Steve’s wife Lori had an emergency during the birth of their third child. She received over ten units of blood. “At the time I was so grateful for the fact that her life was virtually saved that I became dedicated to giving blood for the rest of my life,” Steve said. “I wanted to pay it back.”
Now his company, RJ Thomas Manufacturing, hosts blood drives for employees every 56 days, where he adds on to his own donation record. “It’s a great cause and I enjoy it! Physically, mentally, emotionally: it just makes me feel better.”
126 Gallon Donor
What else can you do that allows you to give life to another person? This simple question is what motivates Paul Menzel to be an aphaeresis platelet donor. “I believe in the importance of giving blood and helping others,” says Paul.
As a committed donor, Paul donates platelets every two weeks. Paul knows that his selfless gift helps someone in his community. Paul’s commitment to blood donation has led him to become the top gallon milestone donor in LifeServe Blood Center’s collection area where he personally helps hundreds of hospital patients each and every year.
86 Gallon Donor
Blood donors share a common commitment, the desire to help someone in need. Howard’s commitment to saving lives is evident by the number of gallons of blood he has donated throughout his lifetime. His donations provide the gift of life to someone he will probably never meet. “You just never know if you’ll be the one to need blood at some point in time. I’ve been fortunate to be healthy and able to donate and I just believe it is the right thing to do to help others.”
52 Gallon Donor
Lifetime donors, like Kathy Denny, share a strong belief in community service, personal responsibility and the importance of helping others. Kathy’s commitment to blood donation began as an act of honor and memory of her late brother who died three short months after being diagnosed with leukemia as a teenager. Kathy saw the need and importance of donated blood during her brother’s illness and has continued her lifelong habit of giving blood by donating whole blood and/or platelets on a regular basis.