A Patch of Sand at 5 mph Spells Disaster
Vigilant friends, blood donors and emergency staff rescue Keith
It’s easy to see from Keith Stanley’s picture that in 2008, life was looking pretty good. A married father of two teenage daughters, Keith’s life revolved around family, his professional life in the printing business and a love of bikes. He was also a devoted blood donor, but one fun-filled April day, a very minor spill on his bike created a life he couldn’t have imagined.
Keith was in his sixth year of attending the annual Leesburg Bikefest, a favorite regional motorcycle rally. It was a yearly chance to hang out with seven of his motorcycle buddies, playing poker, taking in the festival events, and riding in the beautiful Florida sunshine. At the end of their first day, just as Keith and his friends were returning to their cabins in Silver Springs, only 25’ from his cabin and riding at a snail’s pace of just 5 mph, Keith’s bike hit a small patch of sand and his bike slid out from under him. Although there was just minor damage to the engine guard, Keith knew immediately that his ankle had been injured. With a typically nonchalant attitude, he put his ankle on ice and enjoyed a couple hours of poker with his buddies. Keith learned later that his ankle had been broken, but this turned out to be almost insignificant compared to the devastation he was about to experience. He had noticed only a minor scratch on the side of his head but just ignored it, a decision that almost became a fatal mistake.
As the group decided to call it a day around midnight, Keith gave his wife, Bridget, a call at work to tell her about the incident. He is convinced the conversation saved his life. The wife of one of Keith’s fellow bikers was a nurse at the hospital where Bridget worked and when she learned about the accident and that Keith’s friends had noticed his speech was not quite right, she suggested they keep an eye on him throughout the night. Less than an hour after lying down, Keith began to vomit and his friends immediately called 911. Unresponsive and in a coma, a tracheotomy was performed in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
Tests revealed that Keith had a subdural hematoma and a section of his skull had to be removed to reduce pressure and drain excess fluid. Keith had a history since childhood of bleeding profusely and as blood continued to accumulate, three surgeries followed before the bleeding finally stopped. He was in an induced coma for six days and received multiple units of blood to help him recover from the blood loss. Because the pressure in his brain was so high, Keith’s doctors anticipated it would be at least 6-8 months before he could begin to function normally, and were unsure if he would ever return to full mental and physical health. Miraculously, however, within 41 days, he was making excellent progress and in less than three months he was able to leave the hospital. Keith has surprised everyone with his remarkable resilience. With the help of his family and friends, he is leading an active life, even riding his beloved motorcycle again – but always with a helmet now.
Because of lingering short-term memory issues, Keith has not been able to return to work. However, as a blood donor since high school, he is more keen than ever to give back to others and return to donating blood: “I never thought I would need blood myself and I don’t know what kind of shape I would have been in without receiving those units of blood. 5 mph and no helmet…you just never know.”
In just a few more weeks, Keith intends to be in a donor chair again, helping to save someone else’s life. We also plan to take him up on his offer to be a volunteer for Florida Blood Services. We agree with his daughters who said, “It’s good to have Dad back.”
Serious Health Issues Hidden Behind a Smile
Blood donors are keeping Logan alive
You wouldn’t know it from the angelic smile on Logan’s face but he is facing a very serious health issue. The worst part is that doctors don’t even have a name for it yet.
Amanda Brigandi, Logan’s mom, expected nothing out of the ordinary when he was born. After all, his 4 year-old brother, Matt, had been a healthy baby from the start and her pregnancy with Logan had been unremarkable. But Amanda’s experience and attentiveness as a mother probably saved Logan’s life. Very shortly after his birth, Amanda new something was not right. All through the day she tried to bring attention to the fact that his temperature was low, he was pale and not breathing well, and he wouldn’t wake to nurse. It was a cluster of symptoms that taken individually might be explained away, but Amanda persisted with the skeptical medical staff and finally convinced them to give Logan a thorough exam.
It wasn’t long before a nurse confirmed to Amanda that Logan was very seriously ill. He was rushed to the neo-natal intensive care unit with pulmonary hypertension, jaundice, a very low red cell count and low oxygen saturation. Airlifted to Tampa General Hospital on a ventilator, he was seen in the middle of the night by a pediatric hematologist who realized after several tests that Logan’s liver wasn’t functioning properly. It took five days, but thanks to the availability of blood and platelets, he was finally stabilized and removed from intubation. For months he was on weekly clinic visits for transfusions while the search was on to put a name to his illness.
Logan is now 14 months old and Amanda has still not received a firm diagnosis for his condition. A bone marrow test when he was a few months old showed that his tiny body is making baby red cells but before they can mature they are breaking down. Until his illness has a name and can be treated, he remains dependent on the generosity of volunteer blood donors for healthy red cells and platelets every 3-4 weeks.
It’s clear that Logan gets his happy disposition from his mom. In spite of the tremendous strain of being a single mom raising two sons , one of whom has a life-threatening illness, she remains optimistic, up-beat and very grateful for the many people who have stepped up to help her, especially blood donors.
“I donated blood in high school but stopped after I got out of school. I never knew how vital it was until Logan got sick. Once I knew, I started having blood drives on behalf of Logan, and they not only help bring awareness but also help many other people who need blood.”
Logan is scheduled for additional in-depth testing that should lead to a firm diagnosis. Until then, Amanda delights in every one of his smiles and every precious moment she and Logan share.
Healthy One Day - Transfusion Dependent the Next
Faithful blood donors keep this devoted teacher alive
Kathy Jones has been an educator her entire life, but the day she suddenly noticed some significant, unexplainable bruising on her arm, the teacher became the student as she struggled to understand what was happening to cause blood to leak into her tissues. The obvious first thought by her doctor was leukemia but to know for sure, Kathy was admitted to the hospital and a marrow biopsy was done to look directly at her blood-producing cells, the possible source of the problem. While waiting for results, Kathy received much needed platelets from volunteer blood donors to stop the internal bleeding. Within three days, she had the diagnosis: Aplastic Anemia.
Kathy learned that “aplastic” comes from the word “aplasia”, a medical term that means the failure of some tissue or organ to develop. In this case, the tissue was Kathy’s marrow and it was not producing healthy blood cells, leaving her vulnerable to bleeding, great susceptibility to infection, and fatigue due to insufficient iron-carrying red cells. Although her only option for long-term health was determined to be a bone marrow transplant, Kathy was given the option to first try an experimental treatment protocol at the National Institute of Health. She began a regimen of platelet transfusions three times a week, and whole blood transfusions every two weeks.
“My husband was in daily contact with Florida Blood Services. It would not be exaggerating to say that during these difficult months, FBS staff became our trusted friends who truly cared for us in a time of tremendous need.”
Within six months it was apparent that this experimental option was a failure, so the search began for a matched donor. It took an additional six months to determine that, in spite of only a 1 in 4 chance of finding a match in her family, her sister miraculously turned out to be the perfect donor. Precious cells were collected from her sister by the medical team in the Therapeutics Department at Florida Blood Services and transported to the hospital where Kathy received the lifesaving infusion.
It took many difficult months for her new immune system to develop and become fully functional, but Kathy’s long struggle finally paid off when the transplant was pronounced a success. Six months later Kathy was thrilled to return to her students and teaching full time. She supports them with enthusiasm whenever they ask to leave class to donate blood at school blood drives, telling them, “I am only alive because people like you take the time to give something so precious. I am only one person who benefited from the generosity of blood donors, but I speak for so many others who owe their lives to these quiet angels among us.”
Kathy knows that it takes more than blood to save a life. Financial donors provide invaluable support to the blood center too, with their generous gifts that fund important needs such as education programs, the purchase of bloodmobiles, courier and transport vehicles and therapeutic equipment.
The Long Road From Vegas
An Amazing Attitude and Many Blood Donors Keep Kristine Going
Unfortunately for Kristine Flemister, what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas. Her discovery there began a cascade of health challenges punctuated by victories, setbacks and ultimately, an ongoing dependence on blood donors.
In December of 2000, a 30 year-old healthy, energetic and fun-loving Kristine was in Las Vegas for a business conference. Just hours before she was ready to return home, she noticed a suspicious lump under her arm. Not in a panic but smart enough to know when to see a doctor, Kristine packed up and headed home. An initial visit with her doctor was followed by a long, tense holiday season while she waited for the diagnosis. Finally, weeks later she was given the harsh news that she had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph tissue. Because the disease was caught early, she was treated over six months with chemotherapy but no radiation. Kristine also received 12-15 units of packed red cells and platelets to combat anemia, and by the time chemotherapy and transfusions were over, she was feeling lucky to be in remission. Kristine put the ordeal out of her mind and focused on resuming her busy life. Soon, however, life would turn upside down for her once again.
“I’ll never forget the day”, said Kristine. “It was September 15, 2001 and I awoke to find a huge lump on my neck.” Knowing what lay ahead of her, Kristine was prepared to face more chemotherapy but was shocked to learn that because the lymphoma was so aggressive, her only chance for a cure was a bone marrow transplant. “I was devastated at first, but once I had a plan for treatment, I was determined to successfully complete treatment.”
When the search for a matching bone marrow donor failed, Kristine was prepared for a bone marrow transplant using stem cells from her own blood. Weeks of more harsh chemotherapy followed and on December 3, 2001, she was ready for the procedure. The stems cells engrafted rapidly and with healthy new marrow in just four miraculously short months, Kristine was back at work full time by the Spring of 2002.
Life was finally rewarding her with good health; no doctors, no side-effects, no illness and general good health. In the Summer of 2008, life was looking pretty sweet, and the family – daughters Monica and one year-old Caroline, and husband Matt - embarked on every kid’s dream – a Disney cruise. Little did Kristine realize that she was about to be thrown back into another health challenge, this time one that would change her life forever.
Not long after returning home from the cruise, Kristine passed out on the kitchen floor. She was rushed to the nearest emergency room where doctors asked her,
“How are you walking, talking or even functioning at all? Your hemoglobin is only 5!” During her four-day stay in intensive care, all possibilities were investigated, from internal bleeding to leukemia to a return of her lymphoma. Finally, after several weeks of testing, multiple blood transfusions and a second bone marrow biopsy, Kristine was diagnosed with Pure Red Blood Cell Aplasia (PRBCA), an extremely rare blood disorder in which bone marrow ceases to produce red blood cells. Steroid treatment began along with packed red cell transfusions given every 10 days, and Kristine’s life was turned upside down. Unable to sleep or work, she underwent five different treatment protocols, each lasting about three months, as doctors tried to find an effective treatment.
By the Fall of 2010, Kristine was told by her doctors, “We’ve exhausted most options. You can receive another chemotherapy regimen four hours-a-day, three days-a-week for 12 weeks, or you can choose to be transfusion dependent, with the hope that a new medication may become available in the future.”
She chose lifesaving blood as an alternative to continuing protocols with low success rates that significantly impacted her quality of life. For many years, Kristine has had a blood transfusion every two to three weeks. However, as of her last transfusion in March of 2011 her red cell count has remained steady. She is hopeful this will continue and she’ll have longer and longer intervals between transfusions.
Kristine credits family, friends, and especially her husband, Matt, along with a supportive employer and lifesaving blood donors for getting her through her many health challenges. She now encourages regular blood drives at work and says,
“I don’t think blood donors realize the lives they’re impacting. Because of them, when I receive blood, I have the energy to pick up my little daughter and carry her upstairs to bed. Life has changed dramatically because of my condition, but when I receive blood, my quality of life is so much better as I can be more engaged with my family and my career.” Many of Kristine’s family and friends have become blood donors to make sure that little girls like Caroline can get a hug from Mom.
Denial Nearly Leads to Death
Family history trumps healthy lifestyle
Duane Henderson is in awe of the fact that he’s still alive. Thanks to an
observant friend, selfless blood donors and a caring family doctor, his life was
saved during a series of medical emergencies.
Duane and his five brothers knew that their father had heart issues and vowed to
live a healthy lifestyle. A self-described “sports nut” as a young man, Duane
continued his fitness activities and healthy eating habits into adulthood, doing
everything right to protect his heart. What he thought was stellar health, however,
suddenly deteriorated into life-threatening problems at the age of 46 when a heart
condition began a cascade of medical emergencies.
"One night around 4 a.m.," Duane recalled, "I awoke with pain in my right arm and jaw,
and what felt like 12 kids on pogo sticks jumping on my chest."
He realized something
was seriously wrong but refused to contemplate a heart attack, instead taking three
aspirins and waiting till later in the morning to call his doctor. “Denial was one of
the dumbest things I’ve ever done”, said Duane, “because as soon as I walked in the
doctor’s office, he knew something was wrong.” Duane managed to talk his doctor into
letting him spend the night at home on medication until further tests could be run. By
the following morning, Duane was seriously short of breath and a cardiac catheterization
procedure at the hospital revealed mitral valve damage requiring immediate surgery.
Duane remembers signing the form to receive blood, although he was advised that for the
laparoscopic procedure used, it was seldom necessary. As he spent the night in a step-down
recovery unit, it became apparent that things would not be going according to plan. A good
friend with emergency medical training spent the night with Duane and noticed that his blood
pressure was in rapid and persistent decline. Insisting that the hospital staff notify the
doctor of the need for an immediate assessment, an emergency MRI was soon done revealing
that Duane was bleeding internally. A stitch that had been used during surgery had torn
and created a tear in his liver. By the time emergency treatment was initiated, Duane’s
kidneys were failing and his weight had ballooned from 182 lbs. to 238 lbs. The chest tube
that had been inserted had also stopped working, causing his right lung to collapse.
During his second surgery in two days, a new chest tube was inserted to drain his lungs of
fluid and blood. Duane only found out much later that medical personnel had estimated
he would probably have lived for only 65 minutes without this lifesaving treatment and
the help of multiple blood donors. Throughout his ordeal, eight units of blood and four
platelet transfusions were needed to keep Duane alive and support him through recovery.
Not yet out of the woods, Duane was still to have one more unscheduled emergency surgery
about ten days later, this one to repair damage done when the second chest tube was
inadvertently pulled from his chest without first clipping all the internal stitches.
When Thanksgiving arrived three months later, Duane was finally feeling well and full
of gratitude for those who had made his return to health possible. He organizes blood
drives and encourages others to donate, saying, "There are people I never knew who
saved my life and it’s changed my entire thought process. You don’t realize what it’s
like until it happens to you and because of that, I’ve made a promise to myself to
faithfully donate blood every 56 days." Thank you for thinking of others, Duane, and
for sharing your lifesaving story.
Tragic Events Alter The McGinnis Family Forever
A random crime followed by a random encounter devastates a family
"Pops, I’ve been shot. I just wanted to tell you I love you."
It’s been more than two years since Gene McGinnis heard those shocking words
over the phone from his son, Sam, yet he is still shaken when he talks about
his close encounter with death in 2008. A hardworking young man with a full-time
job and a part-time supervisory position with CVS, Sam’s life changed forever
just after midnight on November 29, 2008 when a masked robber burst into the
Carrollwood CVS where he had just begun his shift, and demanded that Sam hand
over the cash from the registers.
As he climbed over the counter to comply with the robber’s demands, he suddenly
felt a bullet tear through his leg, shattering a bone and severing an artery.
Crawling to the registers, Sam struggled to open them and pleading with the robber
not to harm any of the employees, he was shot at point blank range in the chest.
As the robber fled with about $80, Sam had the presence of mind to remove his
belt and use it as a tourniquet on his leg. It was then that he reached for
his cell phone and called his father. "It was the scariest thing that any parent
could hear in a child's voice, the worst thing I've ever heard in my life,"
Sam was rushed to emergency surgery where he remained through most of the
night as doctors worked to save his life. Many hours and six units of blood later,
doctors saved Sam’s leg and closed the wound that had ripped through internal organs
as he was shot in the chest. Through many months of recuperation Sam improved,
supported with the love and attentiveness of his dad, mother, Maria and his
A catastrophic event such as this might visit a family once, but in less than a year,
the McGinnis family was plunged into their second crisis. In August of 2009 as the
family home was being modified for wheelchair access for Sam, Maria travelled to
Pennsylvania to visit her sister. During her visit, she began to experience
significant swelling in her feet, prompting her to seek medical advice at the local
hospital’s emergency room. After being assured that it was likely due to having
recently travelled, Maria returned to her sister’s home. When her sister came home
from work that afternoon, she discovered Maria asleep, or so she thought until she
noticed serious swelling over her entire body. Hurriedly calling 911 for her
unresponsive sister, she suddenly noticed discoloration traveling up Maria’s legs.
It wasn’t long before Gene received his second frightening phone call in less than
a year, this time from Maria’s doctor in the emergency room. "I thought it wasn’t a
big deal, that perhaps she’d had some kind of minor accident, but then the doctor
said she was on life support and they needed to know any medications she was on. I was
on the phone for 2 hours." Maria was soon diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, better
known by its more graphic name, flesh eating bacteria. Because of its highly contagious
nature, the Centers For Disease control became involved and ultimately determined
that she most likely contracted the infection via a random encounter while out shopping.
Gene rushed to the hospital and lived there for days, trying to communicate to
Maria that he was there by her side. Her condition was so grave that he tried to
prepare her for death but couldn’t find the words. With 20% of her skin damaged,
her organs failing and platelet count plummeting, Maria was put on a 5-day plan of
therapy to include multiple infusions of platelets. Gene was told to prepare for
the worst as her prognosis for recovery from the deadly bacteria was poor. Gene’s
Facebook post to friends on August 17, 2009, reflected the desperation he felt:
"Life is so fragile folks. I just can't believe the boundaries our family walks."
Miraculously, at the end of the third day, Maria’s platelet count rose from 13,000 to
30,000 and by the 5th day her precarious hold on life improved. "Had the platelets
not been available, I don’t know what I’d be doing right now,"
By the 11th day, Maria was well enough to move to the Pittsburgh Burn Center for three
weeks and she eventually returned to Tampa for further therapy, multiple skin grafts
and reconstructive surgery. Although she has permanent scars from her ordeal, she
continues to care for Sam as he deals with the lingering pain and debilitation of
When asked about the family’s "new normal", Gene said, "We still go places on weekends
and have as normal a life as a person can have after two such life-altering happenings.
It amazes me, all the people who wanted to provide blood when Sam was shot. Had it
not been for blood donors I wouldn’t have either my wife or my son. I’m extremely
thankful and I’m hoping that sharing our story will help someone."
Every day hundreds of volunteer blood donors throughout our communities selflessly
save the lives of precious loved ones like Sam and Maria. Gene’s heartfelt
gratitude conveys what a priceless gift blood donors share when they give the Gift of Life.
From Selfless Blood Donor to Patient in Need
Emergency transfusion saves Brownie Allen from near fatal condition
"I'm just so grateful to be alive."
These are the words of Brownie Allen,
mother of two sons and wife of Woody Allen (no, not THAT Woody Allen), a
faithful blood donor. Brownie also became a blood donor in January of
2009, happy to help others who were in critical need of lifesaving blood
products, but it wasn’t long before she learned first hand how truly
valuable volunteer blood donors are.
Brownie had successfully battled cancer in 2008, undergoing surgery but
having been spared radiation and chemotherapy. It was shortly afterward in early
2009 that Brownie became a blood donor, but her dream of helping others was cut
short when her cancer returned. Several months of radiation treatments followed
and after a period of recovery, Brownie began to think about returning to one
of FBS’s donor rooms. Follow-up tests, however, revealed she was suffering from
internal bleeding due to the radiation treatments.
This new development was treated immediately with a corrective procedure, but over
the following months her feelings of fatigue only increased. So tired at times it
was difficult to stand or walk, Brownie began to suffer from labored breathing and
a rapid pulse. Little did she know that her blood volume was dropping and that her
hemoglobin was seriously deficient. The weekend before Thanksgiving in 2010 Brownie
realized a trip to her doctor would be a good idea and upon running blood and heart
tests, the doctor said, "I have some good news and some bad news for you.
The good news is that your heart is really strong. The bad news is that your
hemoglobin is 3.75. Most people who have a red cell count that low are already dead.
We’re going to send you by ambulance to the hospital and put you in intensive care.
That’s where we put people that don’t have any blood." Transfusions
began immediately and over the next two days she received 5 units of whole blood
and 3 transfusions of iron. As it turned out, her internal bleeding from the radiation
had not been fully corrected, and had her blood count dropped much lower, a heart
attack was a near certainty.
Brownie was discharged from the hospital within four days, just in time to cook
Thanksgiving dinner for her family. "I just never thought much about it when I gave
blood – I gave so someone else could live. I’ll definitely give again, I am so glad
to be alive! I just wanted to thank all the blood donors for giving lifesaving blood.
What a difference a few bags of blood makes!"
Woody continues to donate blood and Brownie is looking forward to the day when her
doctor gives her the all clear so she can resume donations too.
From Summer Fun to Devastating Diagnosis
Family, determination and platelets help Klarissa survive
The early summer weeks in 2009 seemed routine for twelve-year-old Klarissa. School was out for
the summer but Klarissa was getting ready to attend summer camp and volunteering on Sundays at
her church as a youth helper where her mother, Marta, worked. A straight "A" student recently
inducted into the National Junior Honor Society and the top cellist in her class, Klarissa was
bright, focused and disciplined. It would take all of her determination and stamina to deal
with the life-threatening diagnosis she was about to receive.
About three weeks before the start of summer camp, Klarissa began to experience pain on her
right side from hip to ankle. A CAT scan was originally planned but the physician decided a
complete blood count was in order first. They never got to the CAT scan because the blood test
revealed a very high white cell count. Klarissa was immediately referred to St. Joseph’s Hospital
where additional tests indicated suspicious cells requiring a more definitive assessment -
a bone marrow test - in order to reach an accurate diagnosis. Marta had assumed Klarissa’s high
white cell count was due to a bacterial infection, but when she realized they were on the
oncology floor, the dreaded possibility that Klarissa could have cancer first crept over her.
As their concern grew, Jose, Klarissa’s dad, went home to pick up her sister, Kristina, so the
family could be together for support.
Marta was alone when she found out. Intuitively fearing the worst, she remembers begging the
hospital pediatrician, "I don’t want to hear bad news, I don’t want to hear bad news!" The
pediatrician put his arm around Marta and said, "It’s been confirmed that your daughter has
leukemia." Stunned and numb for those first few moments after hearing the diagnosis of Acute
Lymphocytic Leukemia, Marta soon rallied and went into management mode, ready to provide all
the encouragement and support necessary for Klarissa to deal with the news.
The pediatrician immediately shared everything openly and honestly with Klarissa, helping
her understand her illness and treatment protocol. "Klarissa is a very closed private person," said her sister, Kristina, "and she really has to know you before she opens up. Klarissa
listened to everything the doctor had to say and it was only when the door closed behind him
that she fell apart."
Not surprisingly, one of Klarissa’s biggest concerns was losing her hair
but Kristina helped her through, taking her shopping for wigs and providing moral support
throughout treatment, even at one point sneaking the family’s pet dog into the hospital.
Treatment began immediately; surgical implantation of an access port in Klarissa’s chest,
the first of many chemotherapy infusions, and transfusion of whole blood and platelets to
counter the effects of the harsh treatments. What followed was a 10-month intensification
period of high dose drugs, sometimes infused directly into her spine, during what felt like
endless outpatient visits to the oncology clinic. "I’ll never forget walking into that clinic
for the first time,"
said Marta. "Kids with scars, baldness – there was so much pain in that
room that I had to step out of the room. It was very painful to be there those first few weeks."
Klarissa weighed only 90 pounds at the beginning of her treatment and lost significant weight
throughout her chemotherapy, dropping as low as 70 pounds. She suffered the ravages of severe
mucositis in her mouth and throat, an inflammatory skin reaction to chemotherapy, battled nausea,
fatigue and a severely compromised immune system throughout those first ten months of treatment.
Klarissa’s inner strength, along with the love and support of her family, helped her complete
the initial grueling treatment, seeing her through until maintenance treatments of oral
medication began in January of 2010.
Constant infusions of platelets and other blood products helped sustain Klarissa’s life throughout
the very intense, life-threatening treatments. "I used to watch the little drops as the blood
went into Klarissa and I would be so grateful,"
said Marta. "It was life going into her body.
Who could this be that donated? I wished I could connect back with that person and thank them
for saving her life. Do they know how grateful I am?"
Klarissa’s father, Jose’, has been a volunteer blood donor for many years, with a total of
almost 16 gallons of precious platelets donated to save lives. Watching his daughter receive so
many blood products has renewed his commitment to give life to others. "I didn’t understand until
Klarissa got sick just what it meant,"
said Jose. "I want them to know we’re very grateful to
blood donors for giving Klarissa life."
Klarissa continues her oral maintenance chemotherapy and looks forward to her last treatment at
the end of September, 2011. She has a clear eye on her future and is already talking about
wanting to study forensics. "God’s in control," Jose declared, "and I see Klarissa is going to
have a great future!"
Surviving Against Long Odds
"My wife and I lost count of the number of blood products I used during treatment."
Richard Spayde keeps a grueling schedule that makes most of us look like slackers. It begins with a
full day at work followed by miles and miles of cycling and then, into the small hours of the morning,
management of his passionate focus, Cure on Wheels, the non-profit he co-founded. It’s nothing short
of a miracle that Richard is even alive, much less working so hard to help others by funding patient
services and research at Moffitt Cancer Center and research at All Children’s Hospital.
The first signs of illness appeared in October of 2004, but Richard dismissed the bruising and unusual
fatigue as the byproducts of his busy life. Three months later alarming new symptoms appeared on New
Years day that were impossible to ignore; incredibly intense chest pains, and what Richard described
as travelling pain all over his body and severe flu-like symptoms that literally left him on his hands
and knees in tears. Richard’s wife, Debbie, found him passed out from pain and weakness and a fast
trip to the doctor revealed why. His red blood cell count (hemoglobin) was 7.5, precipitously low for
men who are considered to be anemic if the hemoglobin level is less than 13.5.
Richard was admitted to the hospital and received the first of many transfusions that would help
sustain his life during treatment.
The suspicion that Richard had Leukemia was confirmed when a bone marrow biopsy was done and he and his
family received the devastating news that that he not only had Leukemia but a very rare type of acute
myelomonocytic leukemia (AML) with only 13 other known cases. The prognosis was so grim that Richard
was told to get his affairs in order. Faced with the thought of his two little girls, aged one and five,
being without their daddy, he and his wife stoically reflected upon the path ahead of them and decided
just to get down to the business of getting through treatment. What followed was three years of grueling
treatment, two marrow transplants and periods of doubt so great they were not sure how all of it would end.
Richard began treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center where the first order of business was getting him into
remission so that he could be prepared for a marrow transplant, his only hope of surviving. He was on
intense intravenous chemotherapy for one month, so debilitating that he was in constant need of blood
"My wife and I lost count of the number of blood products I used during treatments. We stopped
counting at 105 units."
He was allowed to go home for a brief period of time but was readmitted regularly for further chemotherapy
and to treat periodic infections. During this time his only brother, David, was identified as a positive
match for marrow donation.
Richard received a bone marrow transplant at the end of April in 2005 but it soon became apparent that
although the new marrow cells were growing, the aggressive leukemic cells were still present. Unsure whether
Richard could withstand the rigors of a second transplant, they advised him of the great risk of failure.
The pain, fatigue and disappointment that Richard felt seemed to only give him greater resolve, and he told
the doctors, "I’m not giving up. Just keep me as comfortable as possible and do what you have to do." The
second transplant took place a mere 40 days after the first on June 4th, with a change in drug and graft
rejection protocol, and within four months, Richard was well enough to live in a facility near the hospital.
A few days into his stay, however, Richard was hit with a devastating set of new challenges. "I awoke
feeling great and by 11 a.m. I was in hyper-acute graft vs. host (GVH)* reaction. Everything was affected,
my liver, kidney, and skin – I even lost partial eyesight. The only way to control the GVH was with a
massive dose of steroids." Steroid therapy caused a weight gain of 100 pounds and left Richard in ICU for
three weeks, with a hold on life so tenuous that his family was told to prepare for the worst.
Miraculously, Richard’s strength and will to live prevailed and he slowly began to improve and was
eventually released to the off-site recovery facility again. For almost nine months after his transplant,
his body was unable to produce platelets.
Thanks to volunteer blood donors, he received an infusion of platelets every three days to sustain
him while his new marrow grew.
Normal life returned for Richard in stages and over the next year he eventually lost the massive amount of
fluid in his system that had left his kidneys functioning at only 70%. After working part-time for a year
beginning in early 2007, Richard was able to return to full time work and begin his "new normal" life.
Although he lives each day with the chronic effects of GVH - loss of sensation in parts of his leg, an
inability to make tears, joint pain and susceptibility to illness – Richard feels his quality of life is
better than ever and never takes a moment of life for granted. He is thankful not only for his doctors
and the talented team at Moffitt Cancer Center, but also for the selfless volunteer blood donors who made
it possible for him to celebrate many more birthdays with his wife and little girls.
*Graft Vs. Host disease (GVH) is a complication in bone marrow transplantation in which the
engrafted cells from the marrow donor attack the organs and tissue of the recipient.
Back From the Brink of Death
"I knew I was dying. I pleaded with God, saying I was not ready to leave. I remember being on a horsedrawn
carriage, being slowly taken through a misty forest, like something you would see in a movie. I
knew where I was being taken."
It’s hard to believe the beautiful woman in this picture was once so close to death’s door her doctors
had all but given up on her. Lifesaving blood from many donors and
multiple therapeutic plasma treatments by Florida Blood Services’
Therapeutics team gave Christina Suarez a future full of hope and
optimism. Christina recently shared her powerful story with us out of
gratitude for the selfless blood donors and Florida Blood Services
financial supporters who made her return to health possible.
"I was diagnosed with lupus in 1986 after suffering for years with debilitating symptoms. Countless
doctor visits during my early childhood failed to produce a diagnosis for the mysterious symptoms I
experienced, and by age 13 in 1982, the fevers, body aches, joint, muscle and tendon pain, dizziness,
mental confusion, skin rashes and extreme fatigue worsened. Years of being an excellent student
were now over and just getting to school became a daily struggle. Finally, when I was a senior in high
school in 1986, I received the diagnoses of lupus.
Dealing with the simplest demands of life became a daily challenge, small tasks often requiring
immense efforts. In spite of this, I somehow managed to attend college and found success in my
professional life until another flare-up of symptoms would strike and I would be confined to bed,
unable to work.
By 1999, the lupus had begun to severely devastate my kidneys and I was put on several harsh
medications including a chemotherapy drug called Cytoxin. The name alone gives one an idea of
what this drug was about to do to me. I endured six hellish months of chemotherapy that required
several long hospital stays. Failing kidneys, combined with the harsh chemotherapy, caused my red
blood cell count to drop dramatically and I received the first of many pints of lifesaving blood in 2000.
The following two years were spent being devastatingly ill in bed and barely able to move or even talk
at times. I was in and out of doctors’ offices and hospitals constantly until late December of 2002,
when I received a call from my nephrologist telling me to go immediately to the emergency room - my
kidneys had completely failed and I would need to begin dialysis immediately. I would stay in the
hospital for three more grueling weeks receiving massive doses of steroids, other medications and
more blood before being discharged. Although I continued out-patient treatment, I knew I was dying.
So sick and weak I could barely get from one room to another, I somehow found a way to get to my
dialysis treatments three times a week.
In spite of continuing treatment, the lupus was still raging out of control. In the beginning of 2003 I
developed a high fever of 105 and began to cough up blood requiring an urgent trip to the emergency
room. Unable to walk, talk or even breathe, I was immediately taken to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU)
and placed in an induced coma while doctors advised my family of the poor prognosis for my
recovery. While I was in the coma I somehow, on some level, knew what was happening to me;
"I knew I was dying. I pleaded with God, saying I was not ready to leave. I remember being on a horse-drawn
carriage, being slowly taken through a misty forest, like something you would see in a movie. I knew where I
was being taken."
While in the coma I developed severe bleeding in my duodenum due to all the medications I had
taken over the years. At this point, needing several more pints of blood, I began to code several times.
My family and friends were in despair, wishing they could just do something and I continued to receive
several more units of blood. Realizing these transfusions were keeping me alive – and aware that
blood could potentially save the lives of others - my family, friends, my husband’s friends and coworkers
- even strangers who heard my story - began to line up to donate blood on my behalf.
I remained in an induced coma in ICU for 3½ weeks total. During that time, with no other hope and the
medications only making my body weaker, the rheumatologist decided to try a treatment called
plasmapheresis in which the patient’s blood is filtered to remove antibodies that are attacking the
patient’s own body. I had researched this therapeutic treatment in the past and had asked my doctors
to consider using it, but at the time it was not widely accepted as a therapy for my condition, so my
doctors had refused to order it. This time was different. There was nothing to lose. I was dying.
By the third plasmapheresis treatment my family was told the illness that had come within an inch of
taking my life was now miraculously in remission. I was brought out of the induced coma but before I
woke, I dreamed that large angels’ wings came drifting from above me, slowly and softly landing on
me and I heard a soft female voice say “you have been spared”. When I woke up I could not move,
having no muscle tone from the 3½ weeks in a coma and harsh drugs, and still unable to breathe on
my own. I could not even lift my finger to call for the nurse. I didn’t understand completely what had
happened to me. With tubes and wires connected to machines coming out of several places of my
body, my family was right there surrounding and supporting me, explaining all that had transpired
during the past 3½ weeks. They were all so happy, confident that a miracle had taken place. I
remained in ICU for another 1½ months, receiving dialysis and plasmapheresis treatments and after 3
months I was able to transfer to another facility for physical, occupational and speech therapy for one
Months later, I would undergo surgery to have a catheter inserted so I could undergo dialysis five
times a day from home. I was so grateful to be alive, but life on dialysis was grueling, exhausting and
still very hard on the body since only 20% of the body’s blood is being filtered. The important role the
kidneys play in full health meant that eventually I would need a kidney transplant. I remained on
dialysis for another extremely difficult 4½ years but resisted accepting a donated kidney from any of
my eligible family members. Eventually the personal challenges of living with a chronic serious illness
and the toll it took on personal relationships left me with no will to live. I discontinued my dialysis and
decided to just let nature take its course. Thankfully, through the support and love from close friends
and the constant devotion of my family, I did resume my dialysis treatments and also realized it was
finally time to accept another gift of life. 2½ years later I found out that my brother-in-law, Keith
Stillwell, was a match. On August 23, 2007, I received his selfless, lifesaving gift. The moment I woke
up from the transplant surgery I could feel that everything was different. A light had been turned on
and I felt as if I had been re-born; that everything I had gone through had been for a perfect purpose
and I would go on to inspire, teach, show and help others who are suffering as I had.”
Christina shows her gratefulness by sharing her story with others to help them understand the
profound gift they provide to those in need of lifesaving blood or healthy organs. Her story of courage
and recovery also gives hope to those dealing with chronic illness, allowing them to see the possibility
of a healthier future.
Christina would like to thank all the loyal and selfless blood donors who made her miracle possible,
and the many financial donors, large and small, who help fund critical equipment for delivery, testing
and processing lifesaving blood, as well as education programs that result in lifetime donors.
A Single Transfusion Gave Kathleen a Fighting Chance to Live
"Receiving blood at the beginning of my treatment brought my health to a level allowed me
to proceed with lifesaving surgery, and later chemotherapy"
Like so many people diagnosed with a serious illness, Kathleen was unaware of
the silent killer that was taking over her body. In August 2008,
Kathleen was experiencing vague but persistent symptoms
and a chest x-ray resulted in a diagnosis of pneumonia.
Lurking in the x-ray, however, was evidence of a much
deadlier disease. Along with the image of her lungs, the x-ray
had picked up the very tip of her liver in which lesions were
seen. The gradual symptoms of illness that had been
creeping over her for months ultimately resulted in the
devastating diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer.
Chemotherapy was delayed until surgery could be performed
to remove two cancerous tumors on her liver, but surgery was not an option
because Kathleen was found to be anemic, a serious deficiency of red blood
cells making surgery dangerous. Too weak to have surgery, Kathleen was given
an infusion of red cells that brought her to a level that corrected her anemia and
made it possible to undergo surgery to remove the cancerous growths on her
liver. Without this single lifesaving red cell infusion, Kathleen could not have
hoped to successfully complete the 17 rounds of bi-weekly chemotherapy she
endured over the next nine months. A second surgery to remove two additional
tumors followed this first round of chemotherapy, with an additional six
treatments bringing her into remission.
Kathleen credits the subsequent interval of health she has experienced to the
strong faith she and her husband share, as well as a naturally positive outlook on
"Cancer takes 'normal' from a person. I had to discover a 'new normal' and
decided that even though I was sick with many things in my life I couldn't control, I
knew I could control my attitude."
Kathleen expressed deep gratitude for the selfless donors who helped her by
donating lifesaving blood. In return, she has been a fabulous volunteer for Florida
Blood Services Foundation - her way of giving back in gratitude for the Gift of
Life. Although she continues intermittent treatment, her sunny disposition and
appreciation for the small things in life ensure that she lives each moment to the
fullest, inspiring everyone who meets her along the way.
No Power Like a Mother’s Love
"It took 300 units of blood and platelets to keep Hannah alive. Now it's our turn to help."
On June 30, 2008, Kelly Marsh’s life changed forever. Her beautiful
five-year old daughter, Hannah woke that day with a severe nose
bleed, significant bruising and tiny red and purple spots all over her
small body. Initial assessment by doctors determined Hannah’s platelet
level was critically low. Rushed to All Children’s Hospital for more
intensive diagnostics, her situation degenerated even further; Hannah’s liver was shutting down,
she had an enlarged spleen and her blood counts continued to plummet. She immediately
received blood and platelet transfusions while they searched for the cause. After multiple tests
and two biopsies, Hannah’s parents received the devastating news that she had a rare disease of
the immune system known as Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis, also known as HLH.
Those three letters came to define Kelly’s life during the two-year period it took for
Hannah’s treatment and recovery period. Kelly spent every waking hour researching the disease,
locating the most skilled physicians to treat Hannah, and formulating a long-term plan to raise
awareness about HLH - a little known killer with a shocking statistic that has heart-rending
implications for most patients and families: HLH usually occurs within the first two years of life;
there is a 25% chance that siblings will have the disease; and 90% of HLH cases are diagnosed
too late, usually post-mortem.
Hannah had a successful bone marrow transplant and has returned to school and all the
sweet joys of being a normal little girl. Kelly was there every step of the way and, even in the
midst of her own anguish during Hannah’s journey, Kelly knew she had to act to help save lives.
"The day of Hannah’s transplant, I made a promise to myself, the HLH world and
to my daughter that I would do all I could to raise awareness about her disease and
the importance of joining the marrow registry and donating blood. It took 300 units
of blood and platelets and the generosity of an unrelated bone marrow donor to
keep Hannah alive. Now it’s our turn to help."
In the past two years, Kelly has organized multiple blood and marrow drives and works tirelessly
to recruit marrow donors and tell the world about HLH, this rare and deadly disease. "I learned of
a place where death comes swiftly. Helping even one family reach the same joyful outcome we’ve
experienced with Hannah’s would be a very gratifying achievement."