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.




This week by the numbers: 4/22/2013

Happy Monday! Here are some things to keep in mind as you fill in your calendar for the week and charge up your laptop or smartphone. This will become a weekly feature on Leaven. I welcome your suggestions for events to add in the weeks to come.

Three people to follow on Twitter:

  • @ovideAUL. New Hampshire’s Ovide Lamontagne will take on his new job next month as General Counsel for Americans United for Life, and this will be the way to follow his projects.
  • @alvedaking. Dr. Alveda King is live-tweeting from the Gosnell trial this week.
  • @jimgeraghty. Jim Geraghty is a writer for National Review, and while is beat is national politics, he always hits the mark when he addresses the life issues. I look forward to his Morning Jolt email every weekday.

Two events for your consideration:

  • At 2:50 today, join people from Boston and beyond in a moment of silence and prayer to observe the one-week mark following the atrocity committed at April 15’s Boston Marathon. Please, not “tragedy.” This is what an atrocity looks like, folks. 
  • Thursday at Planned Parenthood in Manchester (Pennacook Street, a block east of Elm), there will be a prayer vigil from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is a weekly event, in view of the fact that Thursday is surgical abortion day at the facility. You are welcome to join this absolutely peaceful prayer witness for any length of time. See the Pray for Life Center Facebook page for ongoing information about this recurring event.

One site to bookmark: www.nh.gov.  This one is basic. If you aren’t already familiar with this portal to state government, spend some time checking it out. The legislative link alone makes it a treasure, but there’s much more. Look up bills, check the date of hearings, see what our governor is up to. This is a tool for anyone keeping an eye on New Hampshire political developments in any area, not just pro-life issues.

One volunteer opportunity: This is a shameless plug for a project near and dear to me. Give blood. You can find blood drives in our area through the Red Cross blood services web site. Last Monday’s Boston bombings brought the ongoing need for blood donations into sharp relief. Most of the people relying on these donations will never make the news, but trust me, they’re our neighbors. I’m a coward with needles, but seeing people I love benefit from blood donations helped me get over that. This is pro-life work below the radar, and it’s essential work.

More next week. Keep me posted if there’s an event in your area that’s helping to build a culture of life.