Bonfils Blood Center: One small act of kindness can save a life

Photo courtesy of Bonfils Blood Center

There are moments in a person’s life that affect them forever. Usually you wouldn’t consider buckling your seat belt one of those moments. You do it almost as an afterthought, a reflex, and sometimes, we might even forget. But for Dan Richmond, the decision to buckle-up saved his life, and impacted him forever.

Five summers ago, Richmond was driving home to see his pregnant wife, like he did every other day. Less than a mile away from home, Richmond was hit head-on by another driver and his condition was critical.

He spent months in the hospital, dependent on the blood donations of strangers to survive.

Thankfully, Richmond had made the decision to put on his seat belt, which undoubtedly saved his life.

“I’ve seen birthdays, anniversaries, my parents retire, my oldest sons second soccer game,” Richmond said. “I wouldn’t have been able to see those if people hadn’t donated blood.”

It can take over 100 units of blood to save a single car crash victim. For those who do not put on their seat belts, they might not survive the crash long enough for it to be needed at all.

That’s why Bonfils Blood Center and the Colorado Department of Transportation teamed up this spring to remind people to buckle up, and donate blood.

But they aren’t the only team in Colorado fighting for the greater good.

The University of Colorado Boulder football team, led by Head Coach Mike MacIntyre have paired up with Bonfils for their own kind of recruitment.

They have put on five Bonfils Be The Match Registry drives, encouraging students and fellow athletes to register for Bonfils’ bone marrow donor program and contribute 10 percent of Bonfils’ annual donor needs in a single day.

The program was designed in 1989 to combat the diagnoses of life-threatening blood cancers for 12,000 patients in the United States each year. For those patients, a stem cell or bone marrow transplant may be their only chance to survive.

And just like Richmond who depended on blood donations, these patients also depend on the kindness of strangers — strangers whose stem cells or marrow are closely matched based on a combination of inherited genetic markers and age for life-saving procedures.

Bonfils estimates that the chances of actually completing a donation after registering to be a donor is about 1 in 430, but one CU Boulder football player knows the feeling of being “that one”.

Derek McCartney recruiting donors; photo courtesy of Bonfils Blood Center

Derek McCartney registered with Bonfils during Coach MacIntyre’s first CU-Boulder marrow drive in 2013. Three years later, Derek was called to make a marrow donation. Of the nearly 900 donors who signed up with CU-Boulder’s registry in their first three years, 19 of them have been called to Be The Match, meaning they have been nearly 4 times as likely to match a recipient.

McCartney’s sacrifice was more demanding than one hour in a chair giving blood. In the days leading up to the procedure, McCartney had to get injections to increase his stem cell count, leading to stiff arms and uncomfortable nights, and lost 8 pounds during 5 days of injections.

“For him to show this act of true love, to be able to help someone that he doesn’t even know — it could be a father, a mother a young child that’s going to have the chance to keep on living,”MacIntyre said. “That’s more important than any touchdown he could ever score or any sack he could ever make.”

McCartney sat for over five hours, squeezing a red ball every 15 seconds, and watching his life-saving blood filled with stem cells drip out of him. When it was finally time for him to leave, he received so many thank-you’s, that it confused him.

“Everyone’s thanking me,” he said. “I’m trying to save them but they’re thanking me.”

This year, another of McCartney’s teammates became a match. Wide Receiver Danny Galloway will undergo the same process that McCartney did last year.

McCartney wondered if he would ever get the chance to meet the person who received his stem cells, but he was told there could be no direct contact for a year.  If all goes well, he will be able to once the results are back.

Richmond did end up having the chance to meet all of the donors who took an hour out of their lives to save his, which was a profound moment for all parties involved.

Stories like Richmond’s and sacrifices like McCartney’s remind all of us how fragile life is, and how one small act of kindness can make all the difference.

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About the Bonfils Marrow Program

Bonfils’ Marrow Program registers potential marrow and peripheral blood stem cell donors to the Be The Match Registry which provides hope for a lifesaving transplant to patients with blood diseases waiting for a cure all over the world. You can join the registry at any Bonfils donor center or at a Bonfils marrow registry drive. You can also host a marrow registry drive. Visit: http://bonfils.org/index.cfm/marrow-program/join-the-registry/

To learn more about Bonfils Blood Center visit: http://www.bonfils.org/index.cfm