After Seven Surgeries, Three-Time Blood Recipient Celebrates 1st Birthday
Three of Katie Brown’s first four children were all born before their due dates, so she expected her fifth would also arrive slightly ahead of schedule. But that’s about all anyone could have predicted about young Merrick.
No one could have imagined he would have a stroke while in the womb, causing some of his brain tissue to die off. Katie would have never guessed that Merrick would be born at just 34 weeks – well earlier than any of her other children – or that he would spent his first six weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit.
The Willard, Missouri, resident would never have dreamed that he’d need seven surgeries before he turned six months old, or that any of them would lead to complications. And Katie never would have thought that she would one day have the chance to thank the three blood donors who helped Merrick overcome all those challenges.
“If it wasn’t for them, Merrick may have gotten better still – but it would have taken a lot longer,” Katie said. “But there are people out there that definitely will not get better without a transfusion and that is life or death for a lot of people.”
‘IT IS A SCARY CONCEPT’
It’s important to understand that’s not an exaggeration. Katie’s resume allows her to make that assertion.
She began working as a medical assistant on the outpatient infusion floor at Mercy Hospital Springfield after Merrick was born, caring for patients who have autoimmune conditions or are undergoing cancer treatment while she completes her nursing degree. That floor alone – a small section of a much larger hospital – typically sees 25 to 30 patients on any given day, many of them requiring blood products.
Blood, plasma and platelets cannot be manufactured – they all must be donated by another human.
And like 43 other hospitals throughout the Ozarks, Mercy Hospital Springfield relies solely on Community Blood Center of the Ozarks donors to supply the blood needed to provide this essential treatment.
It generally takes about 200 donations a day to meet the needs of all 44 hospitals, though there are times where the demand is much higher. Katie recalled one five-hour stretch around a busy holiday weekend where she made seven different trips to the laboratory to obtain blood for her patients.
Thanks to generous Community Blood Center of the Ozarks donors, she never returned to her floor empty-handed. But it takes a continued, community effort to ensure that local hospitals always have blood on the shelves.
“I didn’t even think about what happens if there’s no blood,” Katie said. “It seems like a silly concept to think that you couldn’t have blood to give to somebody and that would be a reason why they wouldn’t get better or they wouldn’t make it. But now seeing how much blood we give to people every day and thinking that this is a small portion of the people that do receive blood every day in this hospital, it is a scary concept. There may come a time that there is no blood if people do not donate.”
‘THANK YOU FOR THINKING OF OTHERS’
On one of her first trips to the lab, Katie noticed green, heart-shaped tags attached to the blood bags.
That’s how she learned about CBCO’s involvement in the Thank-the-Donor program, which allows blood recipients or their family members to send thank-you messages to their blood donors without learning their identity or disclosing their own. The tags contain instructions about how to send the message.
Katie hadn’t heard about the program when Merrick was receiving his three transfusions in the NICU, but learned it would still be possible to send a Thank-the-Donor note as long as she had could locate a seemingly random 12-digit number that was almost assuredly in Merrick’s medical records.
With a little research, Katie found what she needed. She just needed to figure out what to say.
She ultimately wrote each donor a deeply personal note, explaining the circumstances surrounding Merrick’s birth, extended NICU stay and how their donation aided in his recovery. Among the excerpts:
- “Your selfless act of donating blood helped my son to recover and come home. Thank you for thinking of others and giving!”
- “Without you, my son would not have had the strength needed to fight, get well and come home.”
- “You definitely made a difference in our lives!”
She even included a recent photo of Merrick to further personalize the message.
Katie wanted each donor to understand just how impactful their gift truly was and hoped that sharing Merrick’s story might inspire them or one of their loved ones help save another life here in the Ozarks.
“Seeing my own child need blood products and thinking about what would have happened if they weren’t available and then now working where we do give blood and platelet transfusions every day and my patients that I see that need them. Those patients have had numerous transfusions, so it’s hard to find them blood and platelets that they won’t react to,” Katie said. “I think it’s important that everybody that can donate does because you don’t know when it will be you or your loved ones that need it.”
‘HE’S GETTING A LOT BETTER’
Merrick’s original due date was September 26, 2021, but he made his debut on August 17.
By the time his due date finally arrived, he had already received all three of his blood transfusions.
The first came shortly after he was born, while he was having issues keeping his blood pressure up. He received the others in mid-September after he developed a meningitis infection following a surgery.
Each transfusion had an immediate and noticeable impact on Merrick’s energy levels and overall health.
“I found the photos of him before he got transfused and after,” Katie said. “You can see where he’s like, almost white as a sheet to where he’s pink and eyes are open and he’s able to drink from a bottle.”
Thanks to those blood donors, Merrick was able to go home from the hospital on September 25 – a day before his original due date. But he was back in the hospital several times between October and January for surgeries to help treat hydrocephalus, a complication from the stroke he suffered while in the womb.
“The area of his brain that was damaged, the brain tissue has died and left like a hole,” Katie said. “Now that hole fills up with cerebral spinal fluid instead of it draining.”
Merrick first got a temporary shunt to help that fluid drain, which was later replaced with a permanent one. One procedure led to another three-week hospital stay after he developed another infection.
Despite all the challenges he faced in the NICU and the ensuring months, Merrick is doing well. He attends weekly sessions to aid his development and will celebrate his first birthday on August 17.
“In the beginning it was always a feeling of being anxious and waiting for the next surgery because that’s all we did was surgery and stay in the hospital,” Katie said. “As time has gone on — now that he’s gone since January without any issues — I started to calm down and kind of enjoying having a baby instead of just waiting and watching and preparing for the next time.”
AN ‘EASY, QUICK, SIMPLE WAY’ TO HELP
Since January, Katie also has had much more time to do something else she enjoys – donating blood.
She was an occasional donor before Merrick was born, but his story inspired her to give more frequently. Beginning her new job at the hospital reinforced her desire to help others in need.
She has already recruited some of her loved ones to make their very first lifesaving blood donation.
“It’s just a little stick, really no different than getting your labs drawn or getting a shot,” Katie said. “It’s quick and then as soon as you’re done – five or 10 minutes of the actual needle being in your arm – there’s no pain. There are no lasting effects. It’s just a really easy, quick, simple way of helping someone.”
People can donate whole blood – the most common type of donation – once every 56 days. Katie recently learned she would be a good match for platelet donation, allowing her to give more often.
“I wouldn’t want somebody to be in the position to where we could have helped (them) but there wasn’t a match or we didn’t have enough,” Katie added.
Fittingly, Katie will next be eligible to give on September 25 – a date with extreme personal significance.
“A year after my baby came home from the NICU, I can go donate blood again,” she said.
Each whole blood donation has the power to help up to three people – whether they’re a newborn like Merrick or one of Katie’s patients. Who knows? Katie might receive a Thank-the-Donor note one day.
No matter who her donation benefits, Katie knows her donations will be able to help someone else’s loved ones – just like those three blood donors gave Merrick the strength he needed to come home.
“Every single person that needs blood is worth saving, whether they’re a newborn or 100 years old,” she said.
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 Merrick. What kind of stories will your donation inspire? Click here to find a drive near you.