Take a deep breath. Now hold it for as long as you can. Hold it until you can feel the burning pain in your lungs, in your hands and in your face. Now exhale. Breathe hard to cleanse your body of carbon dioxide. Feel the burning sensation ebb away.
Now imagine if it didn’t go away. Imagine panting and gasping as hard as you could, with no effect. Now imagine if these were your first experiences of life, in the moments after being born. Think how terrifying that would be.
That is what happened to my son. There were complications during delivery. He broke some blood vessels under his scalp–a lot of them, actually–so by the time he was born he had lost about a third of his blood supply. His umbilical cord was also wrapped around his neck, so in effect, he couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t circulate blood to his placenta to get rid of the carbon dioxide.
When that happens, it’s called acidosis, and he had it bad. He had it so bad that by the time he was born, the blood left within his veins and arteries was ruined. The acid buildup had damaged his red blood cells to where they weren’t any good for circulating oxygen and expelling CO2 anymore.
He was gasping for air in a room full of it and he was getting nothing.
The doctors ran some tests, diagnosed the situation, and explained to me, “His blood is ruined, and if we don’t treat this, he could suffer serious brain damage.” They explained the treatment, and I signed the consent form, my hand shaking. I watched as a nurse brought in a bag of O-negative while the surgeon threaded some tubes into the stump of my son’s umbilical cord.
Before my child even had a name, I watched as the doctor performed a “partial replacement transfusion” on him by pulling my son’s old blood out through his umbilical vein while pumping new, good blood in through an umbilical artery. I watched as his color went from bed-sheet-white to healthy pink. I watched as his Apgar scores rose from two, to five and all the way up to ten.
I watched this miracle take place before my eyes. It was possible because there was a pint of O-neg handy and the doctors knew what to do with it.
Today, my son is five years old. He’ll be starting kindergarten in the fall. He’s teaching himself to read. He folds origami better than most adults. He draws amazing pictures, climbs playground equipment and drives his parents just as crazy as does any normal kid.
I can’t say the transfusion saved my son’s life. Chances are he would have lived without it. But I can say that transfusion meant the difference between a normal life and a life lived under the millstone of serious brain damage. What I know is that today my son is healthy and happy, with the full potential of his life ahead of him. Thanks to smart and fast-acting doctors–and an anonymous blood donor who made their work possible–the cruel mischances of labor and delivery did not rob my son of the chance to really live.
For that, I am forever grateful.
Give a pint. You may save a life, or you may save someone’s quality of life. And isn’t that what really matters?