Melissa Crittenden

Melissa Crittenden

When Melissa Crittenden watched her daughter – valedictorian at Fern Creek High and college bound – walk across the stage at her high school graduation in May 2022, her second chance at life felt like it had come full circle.

Eighteen years removed from a near-death experience in the recovery room at Baptist Health Louisville, Melissa felt thankful all over again as she thought about her fully blossomed second-born child taking the symbolic step into adulthood and just how close she was to never seeing Erin’s actual first steps.

When Melissa gave birth to Erin in 2004, a uterine rupture and emergency C-section led to a massive bleed that nearly took Melissa’s life. Melissa’s doctor saved a non-responsive Erin upon delivery and sewed Melissa back up, but complications from the trauma led to additional bleeding, and Melissa eventually crashed hours after giving birth.

Melissa didn’t know any of this until about six weeks after she left the hospital.

“My family sat me down and they told me what happened because I didn’t remember any of it,” Melissa said. “I remember waking up in a lot of pain. They said, ‘You died. They had to get you back. There was a lot of praying.’ ”

Melissa almost bled to death. Her hemoglobin dropped all the way down to three (normal range is between 12-15 for a female) and her vitals flatlined.

“They had to do CPR on me,” Melissa later learned. “They said they were squeezing blood into me as fast as they could get it.”

The quick actions of the medical staff at Baptist Health and the blood donated from volunteer blood donors literally brought Melissa back to life. She received about 12 to 13 transfusions between the uterine rupture and the complications.

Melissa’s experience, while traumatic, is not uncommon. According to the America’s Blood Centers, one in 83 infant deliveries require a blood transfusion. In addition to this experience, Melissa’s late father also needed regular transfusions after he was diagnosed in 2017 with myelofibrosis, a rare type of blood cancer in which the bone marrow is replaced by fibrous scar tissue.

“I’ve been on the other side of it, and I know what it feels like to reap the reward of it,” Melissa said. “If people aren’t giving, people can die.”

Melissa has been a donor most of her adult life. Her husband, Brent, worked with the local fire department and hosts frequent blood drives. Experiencing the firsthand need for blood, it has inspired Melissa to be a chairperson for KBC. She helps set up drives for her company, QK4, an engineering and planning firm, and recruits lifesaving donors.

“I want somebody else’s dad to make it,” Melissa said. “It takes 30-45 minutes. Not only will it make you feel better, it could be you on the table one day or someone that means a lot to you.”

The heroic act of others has given Melissa the opportunity to experience one of life’s greatest joys: seeing her daughter grow up. Erin will attend Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, in the fall of 2022 to study biology.

“When you have people outside your home, people at church and school talk about what a great leader she is, that’s just the biggest compliment you can get,” Melissa said. “She has always done really well in school, but she has had such an impact on the people around her. That’s the thing that makes you most proud.”

Hank Benson

Hank Benson had never really thought about how many donations he had made over his life or how many lives he had saved, but the gravity of his impact recently hit him when he received an email notifying him that he had just made his 85th donation with Kentucky Blood Center – 10 gallons of blood.

“It’s just this knowledge that you’re helping somebody,” Hank says. “You don’t know who that is, where it is, but it is making a difference, and that’s a very positive feeling and something that the Lord helps me to do. I’m just happy to do it and will continue to do it as long as I’m on this earth for as long as I can, every 56 days.”

Outside of a five-year period when he was unable to give blood due to prostate cancer, Hank has been a regular blood donor since 1981.

Hank’s wife has needed transfusions from time to time due to various surgeries over the years, but Hank’s inspiration for beginning to donate decades ago was simply to help other people.

Now retired in Lexington, Kentucky, Hank regularly donates at KBC’s Andover location. His frequency and consistency show how easy it is to save lives, but Hank doesn’t understand some of the misconceptions with donating blood.

“Some of it is maybe – and it’s kind of ridiculous – is having a needle in you,” Hanks says. “Maybe if they haven’t donated before, they think it’s more time consuming and more complex and more difficult than it really is, but it’s not a complex procedure. It goes by very quickly and comfortably.”

Susan Hatchett

Susan Hatchett’s hemoglobin levels will likely never be normal again. Typically operating anywhere from levels six or seven (the average for a woman is 12 to 15), Susan, from Springfield, Kentucky, feels an injection of new life every time she receives a blood transfusion, not all that unsimiliar to Popeye eating a can of spinach.

“I start feeling like I can move the world,” Susan say of the life-preserving transfusions she receives every three to four weeks due to autoimmune myelofibrosis, an uncommon etiology of bone marrow fibrosis that has essentially stopped all production red blood cells in her body. “My body has adapted so much that when I’m (at) an 8.5 (hemoglobin level), I feel like I can conquer the world.”

Susan’s journey with myelofibrosis began in 2019 after severe bouts of fatigue and shortness of breath. On Memorial Day weekend of that year, Susan became so anemic that she was rushed to the hospital with a hemoglobin level of three. Having already received three initial units of blood earlier that month, 10 units were transfused to Susan this time. Shortly thereafter she was diagnosed with myelofibrosis for which there is only one cure: a stem cell transplant.

For now, Susan’s reality is regular blood transfusions to provide treatment. Further complicating matters, Susan’s body has developed antibodies and her blood must be crossmatched before transfusion.

Thanks to blood donors, Susan has never had to deal with the additional anxiety of wondering if blood will be on the shelves to save her life.

“Kentucky Blood Center has never failed to get my blood,” she said. “They’ve always had it there for me. I thank God for the KBC and the person who gave the blood every time I get it. I pray for that person because I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for their generosity.”

Susan is currently in talks with her doctors to explore a stem cell transplant. In the meantime, she is thankful she can count on blood donors to see her three grandchildren grow up.

“My goal is to see my grandbabies grow up,” Susan said. “Whenever I come home from a transfusion, I thank God for that donor. If it wasn’t for that donor going to donate, I wouldn’t be here. That’s why donating means so much to me. It’s my life.”

KENTUCKY BLOOD CENTER