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June 30, 2023
As if Barbara Totten doesn’t have enough to worry about with congestive heart failure and a left ventricular assist device ensuring her heart beats, she feels guilty every three to six weeks when her husband drops her off at Baptist Health Breckenridge in Louisville for a blood transfusion.
“I just keep thinking, ‘Oh God, what if there’s somebody worse off than me and I’m getting this blood now,’ ” Barbara said. “Especially where there is such a shortage and it’s so hard to come by.”
Barbara understands that someone in the U.S. needs blood every two seconds for everything from conditions like hers to traumas, cancer treatments, surgeries and more. Even her oldest daughter needed blood transfusions to save her life after an undisclosed medical emergency.
“I remember the hospital ran out of blood and had to get it from another hospital,” Barbara said of her daughter’s need. “That was pretty scary.”
It’s that anxiety, that firsthand knowledge of how precious and how important the availability of blood is that gives Barbara guilt – however misguided it may be – every time she receives a blood transfusion to ensure she can live a relatively normally life.
Barbara receives regular transfusions as a byproduct of the lifesaving device that keeps her heart beating. Although the machine helps push blood through her heart, it also chews up red blood cells to prevent blood clots from forming. Ventricular assist devices also commonly create bleeding elsewhere in the body, which Barbara has experienced.
Between the two side effects, Barbara’s hemoglobin routinely dips down to eight. The normal range for a female is between 12 to 15.
“I go every two weeks to the lab to check my hemoglobin, especially if I’m starting to have trouble breathing,” Barbara said. “I tire easily. I can tell (when it’s low).”
The Louisville native has lost count of how many transfusions she’s had, but that injection of life she feels each time she gets one from Kentucky Blood Center donors is unmistakable. When she reached 10.5 after one recent transfusion – still low for the average person – Barbara said she wanted to do cartwheels.
“One day,” Barbara said, “I came out and my husband (Rick) said, ‘You feel better, don’t you?’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘You can tell. You can see it. You’ve got color in your face again. You’re walking faster and you’re not having trouble breathing.’ Sometimes it’s almost instantaneous, that feeling of, oh wow … this is what it feels like to feel good again.”
For those who let the fear of needles prevent them from donating blood and saving lives, Barbara can relate. She used to throw up or pass out at the sight of a needle.
Barbara had no choice but to come to grips with her anxiety and worked with the phlebotomists at Baptist Health and her doctors and nurses at Jewish Health to overcome it. She hopes more will do the same because it could make the difference in someone’s life.
“I don’t know where I would be without blood donors,” Barbara said. “You see the calls that go out that they’re short on blood and that they need people to donate. You think, oh that’s great, but you don’t think about it until it actually affects you. People who are recipients of blood transfusions are so thankful for those who have donated because it does make a difference in a life. It makes a difference in my everyday life as far as being able to function on normal basis. It’s just so important, and it’s something everybody should think about it.”
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Celebrating 55 years of saving lives in Kentucky, KBC is the largest independent, full-service, nonprofit blood center in Kentucky. Licensed by the FDA, KBC’s sole purpose is to collect, process and distribute blood for patients in Kentucky. KBC provides services in 90 Kentucky counties and has donor centers in Lexington, Louisville, Frankfort, Pikeville, Somerset and the Tri-County area.