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‘Blood donor heroes saved my life’

Transfusions from neighbors provided a miracle for little Connie

Published 9 June 2021

They were two young men living in a tiny, one-stoplight town in the heart of Tennessee farmland, USA. To Connie Higgs, they will always be heroes.

At age two, Connie nearly died in 1968 from internal bleeding. The cause - then and still today - was unknown, but the small-town doctor caring for Connie knew she desperately needed blood transfusions. Before his eyes, the profusely bleeding toddler's life was slipping away. It was long before blood donation was commonplace, and the blood needed to save Connie’s life was not readily available.

In small towns, word spreads fast. Even as vigils were being held, neighbors were hustling down to the community hospital for a basic blood test to see if they might be compatible.

Then a miracle happened. Two residents of the town, James and Bosco, were a match. Both men donated on the spot and Connie’s transfusion began within an hour of the donations.

“I am alive today because two blood donors took the time to step in and help me,” says Connie, who leads the Blood Screening business for Roche Diagnostics.

Lifesaving transfusions

Those two donated blood units were enough to provide eight transfusions for Connie. The hope was that the blood would stabilise the toddler so that she could be transferred to a children’s hospital for surgery or other treatment.

As it turned out, the transfusions were just what was needed.

Black and white picture of Connie as a toddler
Connie as a toddler

“I stopped bleeding, and all of my blood work and my bone marrow returned to normal,” Connie says. “Those two blood donor heroes saved my life. People cared enough to come out that day and provide that lifesaving gift, just when it seemed I might not survive.”

Connie grew stronger, and learned how to walk again. After two weeks, she went home, without ever knowing what caused her life-threatening emergency.

I am alive today because two blood donors took the time to step in and help me.
Connie Higgs transfusion recipient

More than 50 years later, Connie still thinks of her donors, especially during World Blood Donor Day on 14 June, when blood donors are recognised globally.

“I would see them from time to time and our family would run across them and they would always ask how I was. I am so thankful for their gift. While I was too little to remember nearly dying, I grew up feeling like I must be here for a reason.”

Donor heroes among us

From her experience, Connie was drawn to making safe blood supplies widely available. Her first job out of college was working in a source plasma company, which makes pharmaceuticals from blood products. She later worked for a community blood centre that supported hospitals where hundreds of blood products were used every day to help emergency department patients, cancer patients, organ transplant recipients and many others in need of transfusions.

Connie, enjoying life hiking
Connie, enjoying life hiking

In 2003, Connie, as part of her work at Roche Diagnostics, helped to implement brand-new nucleic acid testing in blood centers in the US. This molecular technique for screening blood donations reduces the risk of infections transmitted during transfusion. Through her work at Roche today, Connie helps make blood safety technologies available to a global community.

She is thankful for donors like James and Bosco, who saved her life all those years ago.

“Donors are incredibly community minded. They are givers, doing what they can for their fellow man. They're not worried about what's going on in their lives as much as what they can do to help the people around them. Blood donors are true heroes in their communities.”

 

Be a blood donor hero

Did you know that transfusions of blood and blood products save millions of lives every year? About 118 million¹ blood donations are collected globally, with each unit saving up to three lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused even greater shortages in the blood supply and more donors are needed, especially in countries with fewer resources. Your donation makes a difference - be a hero and donate! You can also support the movement by participating in our Blood Donor Hero mosaic. It’s quick and easy - click here to share your photo and you can even tell your story about why blood donation is important to you. Be a donor, be a hero. 

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Tags: People, Patients, Diagnostics