A different kind of donation appeal: a gift of Life

Today’s a donation day: one pint of blood to the Red Cross. For the better part of two decades, I’ve been a blood donor in spite of my queasiness about needles. I’m no hero. I donate for a reason that’s partly practical and partly sentimental: some of the people dear to me have benefited enormously from medical care using blood products. I’ve seen the good outcomes.

Once such outcome began three years ago, and it’s changing my life and my outlook on pro-life work to this day.

Ann Marie Banfield is a friend of mine. We’ve fought side-by-side in a few public policy battles. She’s married, a mom, and an intensely committed community volunteer. Her life is full to the brim. It’s not easy to slow her down. A few years ago, something did. A hereditary disease began to manifest itself, and it started shutting down her kidneys.

Ann Marie Banfield (photo courtesy nhcornerstone.org)
Ann Marie Banfield (photo courtesy nhcornerstone.org)

Ann Marie is alive today because of a kidney transplant three years ago.

Her disorder, PKD, is due to a faulty gene. There’s no cure, although some people with the gene escape the illness’s worst ravages. “You’re born with the gene and it’s a slow process,” she told me. “Some people may not even know they have this, since it can be a slow disease, and it’s possible some patients never get to the point where they need a transplant.”

Her niece donated one of her own kidneys – an astounding, selfless act. What I didn’t know until after the surgery was how much Ann Marie depended on blood donors as well. One of the substances infused into her body pre-transplant in order to prepare her immune system was derived from a fraction of blood. Three units of whole blood are required to make each dose. Three blood donors who will never meet Ann Marie were figuratively at her bedside every time that life-giving substance went into her IV.

That’s a kind of pro-life ministry that doesn’t get a lot of attention. Ann Marie said something to me the other day that got me thinking about that. She recently passed the three-year anniversary of the transplant. She’s back in action at full throttle, loving her family and raising ruckuses where ruckuses need to be raised. In a rare calm moment, she said to me “I don’t know why the pro-life movement doesn’t do more with this.”

“This” is blood donation and organ donation, absolutely voluntary in nature. The people who made those donations gave Ann Marie her life back. They gave me back a colleague and friend. They extended the mission of an advocate who never stops pushing for educational choice, high standards and local control for New Hampshire students and their families.

So I asked Ann Marie a simple question: what are some things pro-life people can do to promote organ donation? I got a brief but complex answer. “Learn about the need, the process, and how that gift truly changes and saves lives.”

The process for both Ann Marie and her niece was long and exacting. “It’s amazing how easy it is to abort a child, but it’s extremely difficult to get through the process for a live donor to donate an organ.” There’s more than medical screening involved. Protocols for informed consent and counseling are in place every step of the way, and there are no shortcuts. “The live donor is assigned a psychologist. The donor is asked questions to make sure she truly wants to do this and is not pressured in any way.” Again, she found the comparison with abortion impossible to avoid as she described the process to me. “It’s amazing what they go through to donate a kidney. If they want to abort a baby, none of this happens.”

Her use of the word “gift” to describe her transplant is worth emphasizing. Real, voluntary consent is essential. The perversion of “medicine” that we see taking place in some European countries where euthanasia is legal has raised the specter of organ harvesting. Ann Marie doesn’t see that happening here. “I’m not aware of harvesting organs in the US. This would be big news. If there is fear or any scandal that would erupt, it would actually work against organ donation. After all, who would agree to sign [the donor consent on drivers licenses] if they even thought that was going on? It’s crucial for those who need organs to keep [the process] ethical and moral.”

I’ll be in the reclining seat at the donation center soon, being relieved of a pint of blood. I hate needles. I mean really, really hate them. Then I think of Ann Marie, and all I’d miss if she weren’t here with her sharp mind and quick wit and enormous energy and deep faith in God. My fear of needles recedes in the face of her courage and that of her niece.

Think about becoming a donor. Pray about it. Someone near you may very well have already benefited from someone’s pint of blood or someone’s selfless decision to donate an organ. A voluntary gift to someone who can probably never repay you, and in the case of a blood donation, who will almost certainly never know your name: pro-life, indeed.

Here’s to you, Ann Marie. May we fight side-by-side for many years to come.




Author: Ellen Kolb

New Hampshire-based writer, activist, hiker.