Like many people who receive blood transfusions, Brystol Bates never thought she would need one.
What makes her story unique is that when she first needed blood, she hadn’t thought about anything.
Born 13 weeks premature, the Fair Grove, Missouri, native needed two lifesaving blood transfusions within the first six weeks of her life. She received the first of them just one day after she was born.
“I literally hadn’t even had a thought yet,” Brystol said. “It’s all I’ve ever known.”
Now a 21-year-old junior at the University of Kansas, many of Brystol’s current thoughts focus on making a difference in the lives of other people – just as those two blood donors helped her long ago.
‘WE COULD HAVE LOST HER’
Brystol’s mother, Charity, suddenly and inexplicably went into labor in September 2000 – months before her due date. The sudden development baffled both doctors at CoxHealth South and Charity, who was otherwise healthy.
A screening of Charity’s amniotic fluid showed that she had developed an E. Coli bacterial infection, but it appeared to be entirely contained to the placenta. Doctors couldn’t risk the bacteria spreading to young Brystol, so they made the decision to welcome her into the world right then and there.
“The doctor said they would rather have a 27-week-old baby that maybe wasn’t sick than a 28-week-old baby that was sick,” Charity recalled. “They went ahead and took her.”
At the time of her birth, Brystol was just 15 inches long and weighed 2 pounds, 13 ounces.
Less than 24 hours later, doctors ordered a blood transfusion because Brystol’s body was not able to produce the amount of blood needed to function. They called for a second transfusion midway through an eight-week stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, as her growth outpaced her blood production.
“Without those blood transfusions, she wouldn’t have made it,” Charity said. “Her little body just couldn’t keep up.”
The blood was immediately available thanks to a pair of people who donated to the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks, the exclusive provider of blood and blood products to over 40 local hospitals.
“Without those donations, we could have lost her,” Charity said. “They gave us a 50/50 chance that she was going to make it. But she made it.”
‘I’VE GOT THIS CHANCE THAT I PROBABLY WASN’T SUPPOSED TO HAVE’
Brystol finally made it home from the hospital two days before Thanksgiving, which was still a full month before her original due date of December 23. She weighed just over five pounds when she was released.
“When she was born, the doctors told us she could have had a huge array of things wrong with her medically because she was born so early,” Charity recalled. “After we got her home, she really had no complications from her prematurity. We were very fortunate in that aspect.”
Brystol thrived all throughout her time in the Fair Grove school district, becoming a multi-sport athlete, student body president, newspaper editor and a member of the National Honor Society.
She was also involved in the Future Business Leaders of America chapter, which organized blood drives at Fair Grove High School. Brystol’s life experiences played a major role in her involvement in the drives, which collected enough blood to help over 1,350 local patients during her four years at the high school.
“It’s definitely something that I think about,” Brystol said of receiving blood. “In high school, whenever I was helping with the blood drives, that was something that I was very aware of. I know its importance. I try to give blood whenever I can now. I’ve got this chance that I probably wasn’t supposed to have.”
‘THERE WAS A REASON SHE MADE IT’
She continues to make the most of that chance at the University of Kansas.
Brystol is the secretary of the KU STEM Initiative, which aims to inspire K-12 students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She’s also a tutor for student-athletes.
But her primary focus is on her own schoolwork.
She’s double-majoring in molecular, cellular and developmental biology and anthropology, while also pursuing a minor in astrobiology. Her plan is to ultimately get her PhD and dreams of running her own research laboratory, with a focus on cancer and stem cell research.
Brystol said the Bates family has struggled with cancer diagnoses, which made researching the disease particularly appealing.
“It impacts so many people and there is so much we don’t understand,” Brystol said. “In this time period, we’re getting ready to hit such a stride with medical advancements. Reading all the papers, we are right on the brink of some really great things. I want to be a part of that. That’s what I want to do.”
Thanks to a couple of blood donors, she has that opportunity.
“Whenever she was born, I knew there was a reason she was here,” Charity said. “There was a reason she made it. Whatever that reason was, it’s because she’s supposed to go on and do great things and make life-saving discoveries on her own. It was kind of a miracle with her. She had a 50/50 chance and without the blood donations, that wouldn’t have been possible.”
‘THEIR SELFLESS ACT SAVED MY DAUGHTER’
The Community Blood Center of the Ozarks recently launched a Thank-The-Donor program, which allows blood recipients and their families to send anonymous messages to their blood donors.
Brystol wouldn’t have been able to thank her donors at the time she received her transfusions — she had, after all, just been born — but she still struggles to find the right words some 20 years later.
“I don’t really know what I would say, just beyond thank you,” she said. “It’s my literal entire life.”
“What could you say?” Charity added. “Words really aren’t enough in my case, or probably any person’s case who is receiving a blood donation. Words aren’t enough. Their selfless act saved my daughter.”
And so many others.
Brystol’s story inspired Charity to organize an annual blood drive at her workplace. Charity has now held 13 blood drives, saving countless lives and inspiring dozens of her co-workers to become regular donors.
“People get blood transfusions every day,” Charity said. “When it affects you personally and it affects your family, that’s when you really start to think about it. Thankfully, lots of people don’t ever have to worry about that. If you can just pay it forward just a little bit – just a little bit – it’s such a small gift.”
A small gift, but one that has the potential to save so many lives.
“That small selfless act of somebody donating blood — maybe even for the first time — now look at her,” Charity said. “Look at what she’s going on to do. And she could make a difference.”
“That is why I’m here,” Brystol added. “I’m just here to help people.”
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 Brystol. What kind of stories will your donation inspire? Click here to find a drive near you.