‘Totally Life-Changing’: Blood Donors Help Woman Recover from Emergency Surgery
When Audrey Yates awoke from an emergent and lifesaving surgery in June 2022, she immediately noticed the intense pain that prompted her visit to the hospital that morning was completely gone.
What she didn’t realize was that so was about 40 percent of her blood.
That revelation came as her doctor explained the reason Audrey was rushed into the operating room. Her left fallopian tube had ruptured, and it was so damaged that it had to be removed during surgery. Because of the rupture, Audrey lost close to two liters of blood – a number that initially baffled her.
“I had no idea how much that was until my doctor explained that’s a two-liter bottle of soda,” said the resident of Brighton, Missouri. “I was like ‘Oh, yeah, that’s a lot.’”
To put that into perspective, the average adult only has about five liters – or 2-1/2 soda bottles – of blood. Losing two or more liters is a Class IV hemorrhage, the most severe classification, and what is known as a “preterminal event” — one that will likely kill a patient without immediate intervention.
The hospital’s staff saved Audrey’s life, and two blood donors significantly aided her recovery. After receiving two transfusions, she was able to go home from the hospital just one day after the ordeal.
It gave her an entirely new perspective on blood donation, turning her into a champion for the cause.
“Just knowing how better I felt after getting both the transfusions, it was totally life-changing,” Audrey said. “It just made me realize it’s a huge contribution. It seems small when someone is healthy and they just go and donate blood, but being on the receiving end of the blood donation I got to see how important that small donation is. It’s a huge thing. It totally sped up my healing process.”
‘THIS IS PROBABLY NOT GOOD’
Audrey’s fallopian tube ruptured because of an ectopic pregnancy — one in which the child develops outside the uterus. Audrey and her husband learned she was pregnant on May 25, but she experienced some cramps, light-headedness and bleeding over the next few days.
“We kind of had it in our head that this is probably not good,” Audrey recalled.
Doctors wanted her to go to in for blood work, which indicated a miscarriage.
“We kind of assumed something was going on,” she said. “We just didn’t know exactly what. Once we found that out, we began that grieving period. For the next week, everything was going pretty normal.”
At this point, Audrey still had no idea the pregnancy was ectopic, as the blood work did not indicate her child had been developing between her ovary and the opening of her fallopian tube. She traveled to St. Louis to visit family and friends after receiving the results and didn’t experience any complications.
That changed dramatically on the morning of June 9.
“I woke up at like 4 a.m. with horrible cramps,” she said. “Horrible, horrible cramps. I didn’t really know what was going on because I didn’t have any other symptoms. There wasn’t any bleeding or anything.”
Audrey debated whether this warranted a trip to the hospital, as she was already scheduled to go in for a follow-up lab appointment later that day. She felt it might have been a delayed symptom of the suspected miscarriage, but decided to call the nurse on call to help determine whether it was a medical emergency.
“I’m a little bit of a hypochondriac,” she said. “I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just freaking myself out.”
‘I LOOKED GRAY’
Audrey did her best to describe the situation, but no one knew the pregnancy was ectopic. And she was having such intense pain and nausea that she’s not even sure she adequately portrayed her symptoms.
The doctor, using the information available, told her that it was fine to wait for her lab appointment.
Audrey couldn’t shake the notion that something about this didn’t feel right. She eventually decided to wake up her husband, Cameron, and make the early-morning trip to Mercy Hospital Springfield.
Audrey was able to walk to the car and felt fine on the drive over to the hospital. Her husband offered to drop her off at the emergency department, park the car and meet her inside the hospital moments later.
“I am not that independent, so I was like ‘No, no. Just park the car and we’ll walk in together.’ Well, he did that and I take like five steps outside the car and I almost pass out,” Audrey said. “I get down to the ground and Cameron has to help me get back into the car, drive me back up to the front doors and that’s when he went to go get a nurse and they brought out a wheelchair for me.”
Audrey’s vital signs were so critical that they brought her back to a room almost immediately.
“Everyone told me that I looked gray, which I didn’t know,” Audrey said. “I just knew I felt horrible.”
Once Audrey got into a bed, her pain leveled off. Doctors started performing tests to try to identify what had happened. Eventually, they decided to take her up for an ultrasound.
“That’s when things got really bad for me,” Audrey said. “I started feeling a lot worse. I was in a lot more pain than I had been earlier.”
After the ultrasound, the hospital staff moved Audrey back to an emergency room. That’s when a doctor came in and relayed the news of the ectopic pregnancy.
“They were trying to figure out whether it could be managed with medicine or if we needed to do surgery, because I don’t think at this point they knew anything serious was happening,” Audrey recalled. “And then at some point, they never mentioned managing it with medicine at all and they indicated to me that I was being transferred up to the (operating room) for emergency surgery.”
‘I WOKE UP WITHOUT ANY PAIN’
The next thing Audrey remembers is waking up from the procedure, when she finally learned what happened.
“I woke up without any pain, which was an incredible feeling,” Audrey said. “And that’s when they explained that the ectopic pregnancy had ruptured my left fallopian tube and it was so far damaged that they had to remove it. And because of the rupture, I had lost close to two liters of blood and I would probably be feeling pretty bad for a while.”
Doctors wanted to keep her overnight to monitor her vital signs and blood levels. Test results showed that her hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout the bloodstream, was about half of a normal level – and even below what they’d expect to see in a patient after surgery.
Doctors suggested she receive blood transfusions to help her recovery. She was given one that night and one the following morning, with both units supplied by Community Blood Center of the Ozarks donors.
“I felt so much better,” she said.
With Audrey’s levels improving, she was able to head home from the hospital on June 10. Much of that can be attributed to the donors, who supplied the blood Audrey needed to start getting better.
“If I didn’t have those transfusions, I don’t know how long it would have taken,” Audrey said.
‘WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS IMPORTANT’
Even with two transfusions, Audrey still faced a long road to recovery.
Each unit of red blood cells only contains about 250 milliliters – an eighth of a soda bottle. The blood transfusions certainly improved her condition, but she was still missing a considerable amount of blood.
“Talking with my physician and counselor, they said it could take four to six months for everything to get back to normal — including my hormones,” Audrey said. “And I’m not even talking about the emotional side of things. But on the physical side, they said four to six months — and that’s with two transfusions.”
Audrey’s body slowly regenerated the blood it lost, and she took iron supplements to aid her recovery and combat anemia. But it was still at least a month before she truly started to feel more like herself.
“If I didn’t have those transfusions, I can’t imagine where I would be in my healing process,” she said.
Thankfully, she doesn’t have to imagine it.
Her two blood donors also don’t have to wonder if their gifts made an impact, as Audrey was able to send them a personalized note through the Thank-the-Donor program, which allows recipients to send anonymous messages to the person (or people) who donated blood without learning their identity.
“I just wanted to take the time to say thank you very much for your blood donation! I had an emergency surgery and lost quite a bit of blood and my body just wasn’t healing like they had hoped,” she wrote. “Your donation helped me heal and feel 10000% better sooner. Very grateful for donors like you!”
In researching Audrey’s story, the CBCO learned both of her donors gave blood at high school blood drives. One of the donors had just turned 16 – the minimum age required to donate with parental consent – less than three weeks before their school’s drive. It was their very first blood donation.
Informed that she had received blood from a first-time donor, Audrey became emotional.
“We used to have blood drives in high school all the time,” she recalled. “I never thought about giving. I had friends that would donate and I always thought ‘I could never do that. That seems so scary.’ Hopefully it’s eye-opening for that person to see as a first-time blood donor – not only that, but at their age – the impact that their blood donation had.”
Audrey hopes that her note and story inspires others to donate, so that impact becomes even greater.
“It’s probably one of the best things that they can do and it’s so easy if you’re able to donate blood,” Audrey said. “It just gives you confirmation that what you’re doing is important.”
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 Audrey. What kind of stories will your donation inspire? Click here to find a drive near you.