Burns Blackwell is a Red Cross Board Member for the Greensboro Chapter. Until a few weeks ago, none of us knew he had a Red Cross story like few others. He now volunteers to say thanks for all the blood he has received. Thanks for sharing your story, Burns…
Burns’ brother donating blood
Written by Burns Blackwell
Why give blood at the Red Cross? The answer is easy, people need it and it saves lives. In fact, there have been several times when it saved my own life.
For my entire life up until late 2012, I fought a chronic immune deficiency which caused many illnesses, some known and some unknown (which was scary). I had a defect in my white blood cells, causing them not to fight infections like a normal, healthy person’s white blood cells. The defect was in my neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) and it made me very susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections.
When I was very sick my hemoglobin, the amount of oxygen in your blood, would be very low causing the need for a transfusion. Having low hemoglobin is not fun since you feel fatigued and don’t have enough energy to fight the infection. Therefore my lifelong doctor, Dr. Buckley from Duke, would order a transfusion and things would get better giving me more energy to and good cells to fight the infections.
Several days after leaving school as a kid, I would head to Cone Hospital getting both a blood transfusion and another special type of transfusion called a granulocyte transfusion. Both types of transfusions were extremely necessary to help me stay healthy and live a normal life. Sometimes, I would even come home from camp to get transfusions because I could only go for so long without the need. Heading back to camp was always fun and it was like nothing happened.
Then in 2012, I was blessed with the opportunity to have a stem cell transplant to cure my illness and have working neutrophils! My brother John was a perfect match and we would proceed with the transplant. John, never had the genetic illness and never waived once to step in and do what he needed to do.
My wife, Laura, and I moved to Durham to tackle this journey for a better life. The first transplant was not successful, but we kept our heads up. We came back to Greensboro regrouped and went back to attempt transplant number two.
During the second transplant, things were more difficult than the first. (Which I did not think could be possible). My blood counts could not rebound after all of the chemo basically deleted my immune system. I started needing two or three blood transfusions a week due to my spleen. It was trapping all the cells, acting as a filter. Taking my spleen out was the solution and it is a common procedure, however; not when you don’t have an immune system and your spleen is the size of a football. Bleeding was a major concern and the risk for a life threatening infection was even greater than I already had.
That’s when blood transfusions saved the day! The supply from the Red Cross was there for days, then weeks, then what felt like months. I needed that time for my bone marrow to get healthy enough for surgery to be an option. Those transfusions would make me feel so much better! The blood bank got to know my name and was always on full supply from the hard working volunteers at the Red Cross. Having that blood bank was something that we cherish more than you know!
I became healthy enough for my spleen to be removed and it was an instant increase in all my blood counts. It was a miracle; a new immune system was beginning to build and create a whole new life. Thank goodness for all of the times that the blood was there when I needed it.
Now my wife and I are back in Greensboro and are blessed again, this time with an amazing 7 month old son. We frequently look back on all of those times, and are always so glad for all the resources and technology that was available.
This past birthday, my wife gave me a book of the blog we kept during our journey through Durham. http://blackwellbmt.blogspot.com/ Hopefully someday my son can read this and have the desire to go give blood at the Red Cross. There are always people like me needing this gift! Thanks for all the volunteers that made it happen!