In February we think of the heart. Blood, platelet and plasma donors are everyday heroes whose donations save and enhance the lives of patients in need. Health organizations estimate a heart transplant requires 4-6 units of red blood cells; adult open heart surgery, 2-6 units of red blood cells, 2-4 units of plasma and 1-10 units of platelets; newborn open heart surgery, 1-4 units of red blood cells, 1-2 units of plasma, and 1-4 units of platelets; and abdominal aortic aneurysm, 4-6 units of red blood cells.
Each week in February during the Hearts United Blood Drive, we will be featuring a heart surgery survivor from the American Heart Association-Kern County Chapter and their “story from the heart.” Each survivor will be hosting a group donation during their featured week at the Bolthouse Donor Center as well.
Week one: Lori Gibbons
In August 2013, Lori Gibbons was at work when she felt pain in her back and chest and couldn’t catch her breath. She knew something wasn’t right and tried to dismiss it, but decided to have her colleague take her to the hospital. Lori subconsciously remembered the AHA “Just A Little Heart Attack” video that her fellow State Farm coworker and friend, Brandi Dawlatly, had recently shared, and that’s when she realized she was having a heart attack. Before Lori was put in the ambulance she told her 20 year old son by text to come over to the hospital after his college final. “They brought him back to the ER room as they working on me I told him how proud I was of him, how he cannot let this affect him and he’ll be so successful in life and have a beautiful family, I made him promise whatever happens, make me proud,” said Lori. Lori underwent surgery, survived and went home to recover. Only one day later, she had a second heart attack due to a blood clot, and underwent another surgery. Her severe wake-up call has led her to change her lifestyle by eating well, exercising, and losing weight. Lori is grateful to her friends for saving her life, and she hopes her story is a testament to the power of heart health education. In April 2014, Lori had another surgery and two more stents were put in her heart. With 3 surgeries under her belt, Lori received numerous blood products, so she is forever thankful to our blood donors. Not only did they save her life, but that of her sister as well as she battled cancer twice.
Lori will be hosting her group donation on Thursday, February 12 at the Bolthouse Donor Center from 4 pm – 7 pm.
Week two: Nikki West
Nikki was an active college athlete at California State University Bakersfield (CSUB) until a cardiomyopathy nearly took her life on April 15, 2009. It triggered a sudden cardiac arrest while she was swimming at school. Nikki’s heart had stopped beating. Passing students pulled her out of the water, and CPR was performed. An ambulance took her to the hospital where she remained unconscious for days. A long and slow rehabilitation process followed. The loss of oxygen to her brain resulted in memory loss. It was very difficult for her to go back to school, but after much hard work and dedication, Nikki began to slowly regain her memory and was able to graduate and now she is pursuing her masters at CSUB. Nikki’s story is one of perseverance, and she is extremely grateful for the friends, family and professors who supported her through her recovery. She is also grateful to all the blood donors who made it possible for her to have a second chance.
Nikki will be hosting her group donation on Saturday, February 7 at the Bolthouse Donor Center from 11 am – 2 pm.
Week three: Cindy Steel
Cindy was out working in her garden in late 2011 when she experienced what she thought was heartburn at the time. Then as the weeks went by, Cindy continued to have this same feeling. Sleeping at night became very uncomfortable, as she started having a deep burning sensation in her chest and the pain would move to her shoulders and into her jaw. After a month of many tests and medications, no problems were found with Cindy’s digestive system, so she was referred to a cardiologist. Her cardiologist immediately scheduled an angiogram at 11:30 a.m., by 4:00 p.m. that same day she was having open heart surgery, which turned out to be a quadruple bypass. Cindy had 95% blockage, yet prior to this health emergency, Cindy had never been diagnosed with any major medical conditions. Cindy had always been a very active person throughout her life. She loved to garden, and go camping and fishing with her husband, David. Cindy was not going to let this heart condition get her down. Cindy prevailed in her surgery and since then, has learned to cook healthier. Lifestyle changes have been critical: “having a supportive husband and family is very crucial to making changes to your lifestyle too,” says Cindy. Cindy is happy to share her experience with others in hope to raise awareness about the #1 killer of women. Cindy also understands the importantance of blood donors, “a constant supply of donors is necessary to ensure the blood donor center has blood every day and I am thankful that they helped saved my life.”
Cindy will be hosting her group donation on Saturday, February 21 at the Bolthouse Donor Center from 9 am – 12 pm.
Week four: Joslynn and Charlie Skelton
Joslynn Skelton and her husband Andrew were joyfully expecting their third daughter due July 1, 2014. However, unlike their first two children, this baby girl brought with her a whole new journey for their family — a journey full of fears and unknowns. At 22 weeks gestation, they were told that their daughter Charlotte “Charlie” Skelton had Hypo-plastic Left Heart Syndrome, meaning she was missing the left side of her heart and her aorta was completely closed off.
“Knowing that our little girl had a broken heart absolutely broke our hearts in turn,” recalls Joslynn, who since has learned that congenital heart disease kills more babies and children than all childhood cancers combined. She also learned that their child was not alone, since 1 in every 100 children is born with a congenital heart defect (CHD). Although the statistics were daunting, Andrew and Joslynn received a ray of hope knowing that through life-saving surgeries and treatments, Charlie would have a real chance to thrive. Charlie is the epitome of courage, determination and hope as she has survived two open heart surgeries, implantation of a pacemaker, numerous procedures in the catheterization laboratory, several blood transfusions and countless needle pokes.
Charlie’s latest open heart surgery was on December 5, 2014. During this operation her surgeons worked to reconfigure her heart to function in a way where her right side does all of the work. It will oxygenate the blood and pump it throughout her body. Charlie will have a minimum of one more surgery to complete this process, sometime between the ages of 2 and 4. “There are no words to explain what you go through as a parent when you watch your child literally fight to live,” says Joslynn Skelton. Joslynn and Andrew are thankful to all the blood donors who volunteer to give their lifesaving products. Between Charlie’s two open heart surgeries, she had received 4-5 units of blood along with 5 other blood transfusions.
The Skelton family soon became advocates for the heart community and took action to spread awareness; they truly embraced the heart community and life as a heart family. “We all found our roles. Even our oldest daughter has taken action by starting a social media campaign to find a cure for Charlie, donating the proceeds to the American Heart Association”. They started a Facebook page documenting their journey as a heart family named “Hearts For Charlie” and one day they hope to see a cure for all children fighting CHD.
Charlie will be hosting her group donation on Saturday, February 28 at the Bolthouse Donor Center from 11 pm – 2 pm.
February is American Heart Month. Schedule a blood donation in honor of someone you know who has heart problems or other cardiac patients in need. Schedule Now.