Coloradan living with leukemia highlights importance of blood donations

Last week, the Red Cross declared a national blood crisis
Coloradan living with leukemia highlights importance of blood products
Posted at 10:06 PM, Jan 17, 2022

DENVER — Just days after the American Red Cross declared the nation's first ever blood crisis, blood banks in the state urged healthy Coloradans to consider rolling up their sleeves.

Now, a blast of wintry weather across the country has caused further setbacks, and one Coloradan is sharing his personal plea to encourage donations.

"Some of these cancers can happen really, really fast, and it's really important to kind of have a good sense of when you're not feeling well," Alex Turner said.

Turner was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, in December 2020. The diagnosis followed a case of strep throat that lingered.

"I actually had strep throat twice in two weeks. After the first time, I took antibiotics and it went away. We thought it was fine," he said. "The second time it came back, we tried a different antibiotic, and I was still having these really bad fevers, so it was it was kind of random how it all started. We ran some blood tests and found out that my immune system was completely shot."

The diagnosis of ALL was a shock to Turner and those in his immediate circle. Turner credited the support he received from his nursing staff at UCHealth and from the nonprofit, Small Choices, as critical components throughout his chemotherapy journey.

He also said blood products made the experience more tolerable.

"There were times when my hemoglobin would get really low, and I would be at risk for falling or passing out, and those cases are when I would need the blood, just red blood cell transfusions," Turner said. "Those transfusions would really help get my energy back and helped me really respond faster to the chemo with less side effects."

Turner also received platelet transfusions.

"When you have low platelets, you're at risk for extensive bleeding," he said. "So, if I were to get a cut or anything like that, it wouldn't really clot much because I didn't have any platelets. So, I would get platelet infusions as well when those would get too low."

When Turner learned of the blood crisis, he hoped friends and family would be inspired to donate after witnessing his journey.

"I've had a couple people in my family who have donated recently, especially after I had gone through what I did," he said. "It sometimes takes a significant event in your life for you to actually go and donate."

Turner is far from the only Coloradan who has encouraged donations over the past week. Physicians and other health care workers at the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute of Presbyterian/St. Luke’s also stepped into action.

"We saw the emergency unfolding and we were very concerned it was going to affect our ability to deliver care to our patients," said Dr. Peter McSweeney, a hematologist with the institute. "There was a big rally of staff around the Presbyterian St. Luke's Hospital, and our staff have helped sustain the supply of blood through this time."

While the institute is operating with adequate blood supply at this time, McSweeney said other hospitals could be impacted if the blood crisis were to continue.

"One of the first things to be dropped would be elective surgeries, which a lot of patients want but [are] deemed by our medical professionals as less urgent," McSweeney said. "Keeping the whole system going is dependent on this supply of blood."

McSweeney explained that even healthy Coloradans could be impacted by a long-standing blood shortage.

"If there were any sort of major traumatic injuries to people, like a major car accident or gun accident, blood would be needed," he said.

Although the American Red Cross of Colorado does not collect blood, community members are encouraged to support self-collecting hospitals and other blood banks.

If you'd like to donate, here are some options below: