November 23, 2012
I gave blood for the first time in high school just so I could get extra credit in my leadership class. In so doing, I not only received a better grade, but also overcame a lifelong fear of needles, caused by the trauma of childhood immunizations. Overcoming this fear felt so good that I became obsessed with giving blood, but I never thought that obsession would one day save my life! Six years later I found myself sitting in on a college course I was considering taking. The lecture was boring so l left. Depressed, because I really needed one more class to fill my senior year schedule, I decided to do one of my favorite things – give blood! I was a regular donor throughout college so I knew the procedure. Therefore I was surprised when the nurse stopped the routine examination to tell me that my blood pressure was too high. She assumed that my walk across campus to the blood drive was the cause. When my blood pressure did not go down after resting, another nurse took my blood pressure for a third time and found that it was 210/180. I had no idea what those numbers meant. At that point I had been giving blood for about 6 years and had been turned down once or twice for slightly elevated blood pressure, but my pressure always returned to normal by the next donation. Little did I know that that is how high blood pressure works; it creeps up slowly over the years. The nurse tried hard not to alarm me but insisted that I call student health services right away. I called that afternoon and left a message. When I came home after midnight that night my roommate told me that the advice nurse had called and asked that I call back right away regardless of the late hour. I knew then that this was serious. I returned the call and made an appointment with a doctor for the next day. At my appointment the doctor explained that 210/180 was dangerously high for a 22 year old. She told me I was in danger of having a stroke and asked if I had experienced pre-stroke symptoms like hot flashes, extreme thirst, nausea, or migraine headaches. I had had ALL OF THEM! I started taking medication right away. If I had not given blood that day, I never would have known about my high blood pressure and would have had a stroke! After weeks of tests doctors found that the artery to my right kidney was blocked. Assuming the lack of blood was due to low blood pressure, my kidney sent out hormones to create high blood pressure. Deprived of blood, my right kidney shrank and atrophied while my left kidney grew to compensate. Left untreated, my condition, Renal Vascular Hyperplasia, would lead to kidney failure! Soon after my diagnosis I had angioplasty surgery to open the artery to my right kidney. I now have full kidney function, with my large left kidney doing 90% of the work and my shrunken right kidney doing 10%. This year I turn 40!!! Today I have a husband (who ironically used to deliver blood for the Alameda-Contra Costa County Blood Bank), two cats, and excellent blood pressure! I am a happy, healthy, but most importantly, I am a blood donor! Giving blood SAVED MY LIFE so I express my gratitude by donating for the rest of my life!