Never would I have imagined that by the age of 34, I would need two blood transfusions to save my life.
I have Crohn’s Disease (CD) and for nearly a decade, it had been in remission. In the summer of 2014, I delivered my second child, a daughter via c-section. Everything went well during the surgery and for the 1st week after returning home from the hospital. Around week two, perhaps because of the antibiotics I was required to take or the disturbance of my intestines and other organs during surgery, I began to experience symptoms of active CD again. With my first child, I had a completely natural birth and in the process, herniated my back, so I was unaware of the effects that a typical natural birth or c-section might include.
At the time, I did not think the symptoms I was experiencing post-op were too abnormal, particularly for someone with a chronic bowel disease. But as the months wore on I was having regular left arm pain that radiated up to my shoulder, and I was more short of breath then perhaps I normally was. But I generally hold my kids on my left side and thought I was maybe overdoing the lifting. I thought I was out of breath because maybe I was still out of shape after the surgery. I had a hard time waking up in the morning, but also getting enough sleep through the night because I had two small kids. All of my symptoms seemed logical and justifiable.
However, one day in June 2015 changed that. I was feeling particularly depleted, lightheaded, dizzy and my stomach felt very upset. I had switched to liquids that week in order to ease the strain on my intestines, so when I went to the bathroom and I passed an immense amount of dark, black tarry stool I called my parents to watch the baby. Not thinking clearly (due to the blood loss), I went to sleep for a few hours and after I woke up I told my parents I was feeling better and that they could leave. My stomach felt upset again and so I put the baby in the crib and went back to the bathroom. This time after relieving myself of significant blood I passed out on the bathroom floor. Thankfully, right then my mother-in-law arrived for an impromptu visit and called an ambulance.
I was first administered gravol for the ambulance ride to the hospital and then was put in a room in the emergency department. The nurses came in to administer some blood work and the gastrointestinal doctor on call arrived to see me and asked questions about how I was feeling, and what my symptoms were. He asked if I was tired. All I could think about was ‘of course I’m tired, I have a baby and a 2 year old at home. What parent isn’t tired?’
Before I could even think about it, a team of nurses came in to my room with monitors, IV’s, and a waiver form for a blood transfusion. My hemoglobin was 45, my ferritin was at six and I was near to experiencing a stroke. I was quickly given two pints of blood and then remained in hospital for a week to have tests and be monitored. Doctors eventually determined I had developed several ulcers in various spots of my GI tract, causing the severe anemia and blood loss.
This experience was terrifying. I have had numerous surgeries and complications and health struggles before this, but to be so close to having something irrevocably wrong was an entirely new experience for me. It is painful to think about the ‘what ifs’ – what might have happened had strangers not been generous enough to donate their blood? Every day I wake up and look at my children and I am grateful.
Thank you to those and other generous strangers who are able to donate one of the most precious things in life – an opportunity to return to health.