The George Bailey Effect

March 29, 2011 at 11:59 am
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After pregnancy complications in the spring of 2000 required Lauren Larsen be transfused with 200+ units of blood, she embarked on her current direction as a crusader for volunteer blood donations. In this role she has spoken at more than 200 national and regional transfusion medicine conferences, service organization meetings, and blood center events.

On Thursday, March 31, Lauren will be joining us as guest speaker at Café Scientifique to share the heartfelt stories encompassing the “ripple effect” inherent in every blood donation. Here, Lauren writes about one example of this effect.

While reading the paper one morning, Manuel, a 30-something Mexican immigrant, learns that there’s a local blood shortage. Having never donated blood before, Manuel decides to “help my fellow Americans.” Afterward, he describes the experience as “incredible,” and from that day forward, Manuel is a regular blood donor – every eight weeks.

In 2000, a new mom goes into multiple organ failure and uncontrollable bleeding shortly after an emergency caesarian section is performed to save her baby’s life. Pints of blood are pumped into her body as fast as her veins can accept them. One of those pints is Manuel’s. Several weeks later, Manuel’s next blood donation appointment comes up and – again – the new mom receives his blood. She leaves the hospital after six weeks with a new mission: to help recruit more volunteer blood donors so that others can be given the same second chance at life she was given.

In 2004, the new mom returns to the same hospital that had treated her and walks into a room filled with news cameras and people. Seated in the first two rows are 22 of her actual blood donors from years earlier. Among them is Manuel, who has a bouquet of flowers in his lap – a gift for the woman whose life he helped save. When he’s called to the podium to meet the recipient of his blood, he embraces her, then her husband, and then their daughter, now 4 years old.

Years pass and the recession hits, forcing many to foreclose on mortgages they can no longer afford. Among them is Manuel. The stress over losing his family’s home manifests itself as serious physical ailments, and he is hospitalized. His wife pleads with him to forget the home, that the health of their family is more important than any material possession, houses included. He remains despondent, but there is one memory that pulls him through his darkest days: giving a hug to that little girl who has a mother – thanks to him. It takes months, but Manuel is able to overcome his health issues and move on with his life.

That Christmas, the new mom receives a card from Manuel announcing that he’ll soon be a grandfather. She sends baby gifts for him to pass along to his pregnant daughter, but when they arrive, Manuel sets them aside. “I’m saving the gifts for the baby shower,” he writes to her. “Before giving them to my daughter, I’d like to tell everyone how our two families are connected through blood donation.” The new mom reads this, and cries. Yes, she thinks, we are connected. Then she laughs as she pictures everyone at the baby shower all heading down to the local blood center together to give blood when the party ends.

Thinking back on this story, I am reminded of the scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” – my all-time favorite movie – in which George Bailey begins to understand the depth of connection he had to so many people, and vice versa. “Strange, isn’t it?” his guardian angel, Clarence, says to him. “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

This is a lesson I know well – ever since receiving more than 200 pints of blood 10 years ago during the birth of my daughter, Clare. And I’ll forever be grateful that Manuel’s life touched mine.

Lauren Ward Larsen is the author of “Zuzu’s Petals: A True Story of Second Chances,” which shares her story of becoming a 200-pint blood recipient and the unexpected life that unfolded as a result. She is also the president and chief ambassador of the Foundation for America’s Blood Centers. She can be reached at laurenwardlarsen@me.com, or via her website.

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