PLAINS TWP. — Two years ago, Heather Bleiler and her husband were living a dream: a new home in a safe Mountain Top community, two of their three children beginning school programs, and a fourth child on the way.
Then tragedy struck.
“Out of the blue, all of the excitement turned to horror when at 32 weeks (of pregnancy), I stopped feeling my baby move,” Bleiler told a room full of American Red Cross employees and board members Thursday at the Northeast Blood Services Region annual meeting at the Best Western East Mountain Inn.
An ultrasound showed Bleiler and her son were suffering a fetal/maternal hemorrhage. A Cesarean section was performed immediately.
“My son was born with only 15 percent of his blood supply,” Bleiler said. “My son’s doctor … immediately started a blood transfusion.” He responded well to several more transfusions over two days. And now, 18-month-old Paxton Nathaniel is healthy, “rambunctious and loves to climb up anything.”
“I must admit, for years, I was afraid to donate blood. Even with both my parents donating regularly, I was scared of needles and pain. But what would have happened to my sweet baby if someone else thought that? What if everyone thought, ‘It’s OK, someone else will do it’? There would be nowhere to go,” Bleiler said, choking back tears.
“Today, my son is here — strong, happy and growing — because somewhere, somebody made the choice to donate and save a life,” Bleiler said.
Bleiler might have been preaching to the choir, but her story reminded the staffers and board members how important their work is, and provided some motivation.
In addition to electing new board members Joyce Brackbill, Dr. Irvin Wright, Bruce Mellot, Ronald Beers and Jean McDermott, attendees heard from CEO Maria Elena Geyer about the past year’s accomplishments, which included collecting 75,000 units of blood that helped more than 225,000 recipients.
They also received a medical update from Dr. Ralph Vassallo, chief medical officer; heard from Laurene Cianfrani, senior director of sales and hospital relations, on the competition — for-profit blood suppliers — and new hospital initiatives; and from guest speaker Peter Brown, the new regional executive director.
Brown said the Red Cross has been making an effort to have the Blood Services and Humanitarian Services divisions work together seamlessly as “one Red Cross.”
“That means we should be able, as an organization, to deliver the services that are needed where they’re needed, regardless of an individual community’s ability to generate funds, have volunteers, have materials. We need to be there whenever called upon, wherever needed, and to build a structure that would enable us to do that,” he said.
Gary Williams was honored for his contributions while serving on the Advisory Board, and donor recruitment representative Marge Smith and team supervisor of collections Karen Ranck were honored for their dedicated work.