Not long after Zach and Melissa Huesgen welcomed their son Bennett into the world, the couple began to think about growing their family. With a son they loved, they hoped child No. 2 would be a baby girl.
Three years later, their dream came true – but quickly devolved into a living nightmare.
As the labor and delivery team at Mercy Hospital Springfield took the newborn’s vital signs and performed all the usual newborn exams, they quickly realized there was something wrong with Ainsley.
“She was cold,” Melissa recalled. “I couldn’t do skin-to-skin (contact) with her because they had to put her under the heat lamp. They couldn’t get her warm enough.”
The hospital performed a blood panel test, which the Huesgens learned isn’t typically part of the routine for newborns. When their pediatrician relayed the results, they communicated Ainsley’s levels of hemoglobin – a key blood component – were so critically low that the number had to be a mistake.
The doctor ordered another round of testing, which they hoped would return an accurate number. But when those results came back, the unfathomably low level was indeed confirmed to be accurate.
“Come to find out, she was basically born with 50 percent of her blood volume,” Zach recalled.
Suddenly, Ainsley was transferred to the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.
“It was a complete and total shock,” Zach said. “We were not expecting anything other than a healthy delivery. I remember when they said they were taking us to the NICU. We’re making that walk from labor and delivery over to the NICU – which is not very far – but I remember that being the longest walk of my life and all of the uncertainty of what was going to happen at that point and what was going on. Even the thought process of ‘Oh my gosh? Could we lose our little baby girl?’”
‘THE HARDEST THING TO THINK ABOUT’
Ainsley spent the next two days in the NICU, while doctors ran a variety of scans and tests as they worked to identify the source of her anemia. She was so lethargic that she barely cried or ate.
“Even that little bit of time for us was very – I don’t know how else to describe it – but traumatic,” Melissa said. “Never having anything go through your mind except having a perfect pregnancy and a perfect delivery and everything go fine. And seeing this beautiful baby girl and somebody taking her away from you. Not being able to hold her and love her and be with her when she’s under the lights in NICU. Gosh, when Bennett was born I don’t think I hardly let go of him for days. That was really hard.”
Doctors eventually determined Ainsley had suffered what is known as a fetal-maternal hemorrhage, losing about half of her blood to Melissa during the pregnancy. This level of blood loss was an extremely rare complication – only occurring in about 3 of 1,000 women – and had life-threatening implications.
For parents who had been awaiting Ainsley’s arrival for three years, the news was incomprehensible.
“For her to be right there and then possibly not be there was the hardest thing to think about,” Zach said.
‘YOU SAVED HER LIFE’
But the diagnosis came with a silver lining.
Now that doctors knew why Ainsley’s blood levels were so low, they could begin to treat her. And a large part of that treatment involved two blood transfusions, which Ainsley received over the next week.
The Huesgens literally watched – and heard – the life come back into Ainsley’s body.
“After that second transfusion, she really started to act more like a newborn baby,” Melissa said. “I’ve never been so happy to hear a baby cry, because she really didn’t cry the first couple weeks of her life.”
It’s a transformation that Melissa estimated she’d seen “thousands” of times over the past nine years. As a nurse, she frequently administers transfusions to patients whose blood levels are critically low.
“You see the color come back into their skin,” she said. “You definitely see a transformation in front of you. Even in just the duration of one shift, a couple of units can make a huge difference in the patient.”
But neither she – nor Zach – ever thought their own child would one day be one of those patients.
“I’ve always advocated for blood donations,” Melissa said. “But it’s a little more personal now, for sure.”
Mercy Hospital Springfield is one of the 44 local healthcare facilities that relies on Community Blood Center of the Ozarks donors for blood, plasma and platelets needed to help patients like Ainsley.
The Huesgens are “forever indebted” to the donors who gave the blood Ainsley received, Melissa said.
“There aren’t a whole lot of words that could really put in the gratitude that goes into that,” Zach added. “The only thing you can say is thank you for donating and thank you for being there. You saved her life. May all the blessings in the world come to that person – or people – who helped save her life.”
‘WE ARE FOREVER GRATEFUL’
The timing of Ainsley’s transfusions was particularly significant, as they came within 12 days of her birth. Donors not only saved Ainsley’s life, they also essentially enabled every life milestone she’ll ever reach.
“Her first steps,” Zach added. “Her first words. The little personality that’s been developed, all of those firsts are what’s possible because of the donors.”
“At the point she got blood, we had no firsts,” she said. “Everything has been possible because of them.”
Ainsley’s donors also indirectly impacted countless other lives, as they’ve inspired the Huesgens – and their extended family – to become frequent blood donors.
On Ainsley’s first birthday, one of her relatives visited their local blood center to give blood, which could become an annual anonymous gift-giving tradition. Zach and Melissa both donated at their church’s blood drive a short time later, taking turns watching Ainsley while the other parent donated.
“When people meet Ainsley, more times than not people comment on how sparkly her eyes are,” Melissa said. “And they really do just light up the room. I just can’t imagine this world without her sparkle.”
Each blood donation can help up to three patients. There’s no telling how many other lives have already been impacted because of the donations sparked by Ainsley’s story.
Some of those donations might even help some of the local people in Melissa’s care.
“As a nurse, you treat all of these patients and you do all of these things and you feel obviously great about helping people, being by their side as they’re going through things,” Melissa said. “But to actually go through something yourself really changes your perspective. I feel like I’m able to get on my patient’s levels a little bit more and understand what they’re going through and be able to empathize better with them.”
Those donations could also help Ainsley again, as she still has some lingering effects from her blood loss.
“It’s still a possibility that at some point, she could have to have another. The longer we go, the better off we are,” Zach said. “She still struggles with making her iron. We have to give her iron supplements.”
But that’s nothing compared the struggles she’s already conquered, with the help of her lifesaving blood donors.
“She’s a beautiful, funny, sparkly, shiny blessing,” Melissa said. “That little girl, she’s everything. I just can’t imagine not having her with us. We are forever grateful.”
Donating blood with the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks allows more than 40 local hospitals to continue to provide lifesaving treatment to friends, neighbors and loved ones here in our communities. There is no other organization that supplies blood and blood products to these hospitals, who rely exclusively on CBCO donors to help patients like Ainsley. What kind of stories will your donation inspire? Click here to find a drive near you.