Pat Needham Morehead, Kentucky

Morehead Woman Knows Importance of Available Blood

Pat Needham needed 14 blood transfusions in 2022 in her battle against cancer.

July 13, 2023

With all that Pat Needham has been through – surviving a breast cancer diagnosis in 1998, living with chronic lymphocytic leukemia for the last seven years and now battling a gastrointestinal stromal tumor that requires brutal chemotherapy treatments – the last thing she should have to worry about is whether there is enough blood available to recoup the blood loss from the tumor in her digestive system.

And yet, in July 2022, after three years of a consistent blood shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her oncologist warned her she might not receive the two units of blood she so desperately needed.

“It’s very disconcerting when you need blood and your oncologist says, ‘I’m not sure we have it to give to you,’” Pat recalled.

Kentucky Blood Center and its donors came through for Pat and got her the blood she required, but the sobering reality was enough to open the eyes of a woman who has faced more than her fair share of battles: Donor turnout has never returned to the pre-pandemic normal while the need is as high as it’s ever been.

“I don’t think I was fully aware there was a blood shortage,” said Pat, who donated regularly before her health issues began in 1998. “You just don’t think that when you need it that, ‘Hey, I may not be able to get this.’ Even though I was aware people needed to donate blood, I don’t think I was aware that it was going to possibly affect my treatment, whether I could get blood or not.”

From January through July of 2022, Pat needed 14 units of blood to treat a consistent bleed. In that first month, before it was discovered she had GIST, she needed seven units in one week after her hemoglobin dropped to 5.7, a life-threatening level. A healthy hemoglobin for a woman is between 12 and 16.

“Basically (the blood transfusions) saved my life,” said Pat, a longtime resident of Morehead, Kentucky. “Had I not been able to get that blood, I wouldn’t have made it.”

Pat's Truth: Blood is Vital and It's in Short Supply

With an official diagnosis and understanding of what’s going on, Pat now knows what to look for in case she needs additional boosts of life. When she needed the transfusions, she had extreme fatigue and shortness of breath.

Pat hasn’t needed additional transfusions for the toxic chemo treatments, but that could one day come as well. Fortunately, the daily pill she is taking is shrinking the tumor, even if it’s still too dangerous to surgically remove.

Pat’s prognosis has significantly improved, but she hasn’t taken her focus off advocating for blood donation.

“It’s lifesaving,” Pat said. “It’s something that basically anyone can do if they’re healthy enough. I can’t think of anything easier and more important to do than simply go in and stick out your arm and say, ‘Take this blood because someone can use this.’ It’s easy. It doesn’t cost you anything but an hour’s time. I know that’s simplistic, but it’s the truth.”

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About Kentucky Blood Center

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.