It was January 2012 when her 10-year-old son James wasn’t feeling well. “It was after the holidays, and he didn’t bounce back. He was tired. I was thinking mono.”
But she guessed wrong. A doctor’s appointment showed James had a dangerously low blood count, and by 4:30 p.m. they were at UK Hospital where James received four units of blood. The next morning he began chemotherapy for leukemia.
“That (diagnosis) turns your world upside down. It was horrible,” Hillary said. But, she added, they never contemplated anything less than a 100% cure. “That’s what we expected. We weren’t going to be beat.”
During his treatments, James had more than 30 transfusions, most of them in the first 12–15 months, she said. Those 30 transfusions came from 30 anonymous people who generously gave blood with Kentucky Blood Center.
“When he received transfusions, he immediately felt better,” said Hillary. “We were so fortunate that we had that resource available to him. Thank you to everyone who donates. When it’s your baby lying in that bed, it makes all the difference in their lives,” said Hillary.
James, now a sophomore at Bourbon County High School, is in remission with an excellent long-term prognosis. “We are blessed with that,” his mom said.
While Alyssa knows donating is important, it’s personal for her and many others at AssuredPartners. They donate in memory of their friend and former coworker Emily Rhoads, who died in a car accident in 2015 when she was 27.
After the accident, “Emily received lots of units (of blood),” said Alyssa. That’s when the company decided to host the blood drive in her memory and to help others in the community who need blood. “We do it to save lives,” said Alyssa.
And for those who have never tried donating? “I tell them to just try it. You’re saving lives, and I will even hold their hands,” said Alyssa.
Kentucky Blood Center is always looking for new companies/organizations/schools and communities to sponsor blood drives. If you are interested in supporting Kentucky patients by hosting a blood drive, please click here http://kybloodcenter.org/why-donate/host-blood-drive/.
Alyssa Hawkins, Lexington
Blood drive chairperson and blood donor
Six years ago, Jordan began donating blood on a regular basis after realizing just how much blood young patients need. “If I can stick those kids with a needle, I can come in every two months,” he said.
Jordan also advocates for blood donation, frequently wearing his latest gallon pin and trying to convince others to become donors. It has become a favorite cause within his family, as his wife is also a UK nurse and a regular donor.
The power of blood donation hit even closer to home last year when Jordan’s father needed seven units of blood in the span of a week. The Heflin family was grateful for those who had generously donated the blood that would eventually help Jordan’s father.
“You’ll never truly know how much your donation impacts a family,” Jordan said.
Officially, she’s the school’s bookkeeper but she also acts as the blood drive chairperson. And at a school that hosts at least five successful blood drives a year, that’s a big undertaking.
“Awareness is a big thing. We meet with incoming freshman and make them aware of blood donation and how KBC blood stays local,” said Baker, who also tries to make blood drives fun with candy bars and pizza parties.
They also make the student donors feel special. “We reward the students. Seniors are required to do 10 community service hours to graduate. If they donate blood they get two hours,” she said. Seniors who have given a gallon or more during their high school career are presented a red cord at honors night to wear at graduation. “It signifies their contribution,” said Baker.
But what about those students who are afraid to give donation a try? “I tell them, ‘for a little pinch you have the ability to save three lives or five baby lives.’”
Cindy Baker, Harrodsburg
Mercer County High School Bookkeeper, blood drive chair and blood donor
After the tumor was removed, Tanner underwent radiation and chemotherapy. Those treatments made him ill and weak. He needed blood transfusions to strengthen his little body. His first one was 4 weeks into radiation.
“When he got the transfusions, it was the most amazing thing. He’d be so lethargic and within 20 minutes, his color got better. He’d brighten up,” said Ann, who began recruiting friends and family to donate blood for Tanner. “It made me feel bad that we were using it all up. We needed to do our part.”
Her request was answered immediately by family friend Kim McClure. She became Tanner’s best donor. “Kim knew us and loved us enough to do it,” said Ann.
Tanner believed he felt better when he received Kim’s platelets. “When we’d see the yellow tag on the bag, (designating the platelets were designated specifically for Tanner), we’d take a picture of it and send it to Kim with a note that said ‘He’s getting your super-duper platelets,’” said Ann.
Ann watched her son get regular transfusions. “I guess I never thought about the continued need. You hear surgery and accidents, but you don’t realize the continued need for cancer patients. The treatment for cancer is important, sticking to the protocol outline. If you can’t do the treatment when you are supposed to, it could delay the outcomes. Tanner needed a transfusion to build him up enough to take the cancer treatment,” said Ann, who is delighted that the treatments worked and her 13-year old son is active, happy and healthy.
Ann Welch, Lexington
Lexington Police Officer, Recipient's mom
“I gave because I could. Life is precious, and I see a lot of people who can’t give. I can,” said Michael, who is usually decked out in his Cardinal gear when he comes to Kentucky Blood Center’s Beaumont location to donate.
He says people who don’t give but can are “not doing right with themselves. They need to go that extra mile. It pays off in the end.”
Michael Coleman, Lexington
The first grade teacher started donating platelets as soon as she heard 7-year-old Tanner needed them to help make him strong enough for his radiation and chemotherapy after brain cancer surgery.
Her platelets were usually designated for Tanner. “Some days they’d (Tanner’s family) take a picture of the yellow tag on the bag because they’d know it was from me. They’d send a message, ‘He’s getting yours today,’” said McClure.
Once Tanner got better and didn’t need her platelet help any longer, Kim continued giving. She saw the need for platelets and knew there were other cancer patients in Kentucky depending on her.
“It’s not about you. It’s about helping other people. If people were nicer to people, the world would be a nicer place,” said McClure.
“I’m O-positive. I love donating platelets. It’s the least I can do for someone else.”
Don Smith and Kaitlin Keane
Don started donating in the early 1960s and continued doing so occasionally. When he learned he had been one of 14 people whose donations were supporting a specific cancer patient, that spurred him to start donating regularly. He now donates platelets every two weeks.
When Kaitlin learned of her grandfather's dedication, she decided to commemorate the occasion with a family party, complete with blood donation-themed cookies. But first, she was inspired to turn Don's example into a family tradition. "If he could do it 100 times, I could do it one time," Kaitlin said.
Don Smith, Woodford Co., and Kaitlin Keane, Louisville
Jim Hughes, Lexington
Platelet donor, 21+ gallons
She started donating as a whole blood donor, but when she heard her B-negative blood type was especially good for platelets, she made the switch to doing platelet pheresis donations.
A survivor of traumatic brain injury 15 years ago, Lindsey’s dedication to platelet donation is remarkable. Unable to drive, she must coordinate rides to and from the donor center so plans are made well in advance.
Lindsey, 32, gives at Beaumont Donor Center and says the “phlebotomists are rockin’ awesome.” She likes the rapport there and the friendships she’s established with the phlebotomists and screeners. “It’s good to see the familiar faces.”
When she was young, Lindsey knew she wanted to be in the healthcare field and now works at the University of Kentucky and Good Samaritan Hospital as a PBX operator. She probably didn’t know, though, that she’d play such an important role in the healthcare of many Kentucky patients.
Lindsey Newland, Lexington
To help Gracey and other children who have this disease, the Wuest family organizes Gracey Fest, a fun event in Mt. Washington, KY, that raises money and awareness in support of the Cure JM Foundation. In addition to supporting this cause, the Wuests encourage Kentuckians to donate blood regularly so that it's always available for children who need it for their treatments.
Gracey has a simple but important message for blood donors: "Thank you for donating blood. Your donations help make my medicine so I can stay alive."
Watch this video to hear more from Gracey and her parents.
In her job, she’s on the move, traveling frequently to meet with high school students to encourage them to come to UK.
A medical problem slowed her down, though, but it wasn’t until she passed out and was taken to the E.R. that she discovered she was very anemic and close to developing even more serious issues. She received two units of blood. They told me, “If I didn’t get the transfusions I was on the verge of dying.
“By the grace of God, once I got everything sorted out, I realized donors helped me. Everything clicked about how important blood donors are,” said Joia, who now wants to raise awareness not just about the University of Kentucky but about blood donation, too.
Listen to Joia's special message for the blood donors who saved her life.
Joia Patterson, Lexington
“If you can’t be a first responder, you can do something simple like sitting in a chair for 20 minutes and save a life,” said Byron, who is a special education teacher at Georgetown Middle School.
Byron said he donates because he would want a decent supply of blood available if something were to happen to him or his family. And for those who are afraid of needles? “It’s a little pinch. No worse than losing a tooth. It’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Byron Wilson, Lexington
Today, Lucas is a college graduate with a degree in Organizational Leadership. He’s also a blood donor. “I donate every chance I get. I need to help replenish the stock,” he says.
Thanks to the 150 blood donors who saved Lucas’s life, he’s able to help others today. “It’s an overwhelming selfless act.”
Lucas Cannon, Flemingsburg
Blood recipient and blood donor
“When I signed the form for the transfusion, I thought ‘what a hypocrite. I’ve never donated blood,’” said Belinda. A while later, she saw a local news story about how the bad winter weather was hurting the community’s blood supply. “They are probably short because I took it all,” Belinda thought. That’s when she decided she needed to have a blood drive to help give back.
The annual Billy Noblitt Memorial Blood Drive in Frankfort – named for her father but organized to help other Kentucky patients – began in May 2014 and has grown every year with live music, food, prizes and support from state and local government officials.
Belinda doesn’t just organize the blood drive, she rolls up her sleeve, too. “People don’t realize that 45 minutes of their time can save a life or help a family in need. I’m a big weenie, and if I can do it anyone can do it,” she said.
Belinda Bay, Frankfort
Blood drive coordinator and blood donor
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