The ultimate lesson

According to Vicki Willard, donating blood is the greatest gift to give, which is why she’s been a blood donor for 30 years. That is, up until 2016 when her entire life suddenly came to a screeching halt.

Vicki dedicates her life to shaping young minds as a secondary school teacher in Christchurch. She says she’s found her vocation with teaching but never imagined she’d be the one to sit in on the ultimate lesson at age 57 when she was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

Vicki started donating whole blood when she was a young adult. The school she worked at encouraged employees to participate in the New Zealand Blood Service Drives held on campus and the more she learned about the intricacies of blood the more she wanted to give.

“Donating blood is so rewarding because you’ve helped strangers in need and how great is that?”, says Vicki.

For thirty years she was a proud donor, donating selflessly in aid of others. As fate would have it, the tables would turn, and she’d soon be on the receiving end of several strangers’ good deeds.

“It all started in 2016, when I began getting sick continuously and rather easily. I brushed it off as if I was just having a bad year with cold after cold, flu, vomiting and several urinary infections”, says Vicki.

“It eventually got so bad that even my co-workers told me I wasn’t looking very healthy, so I decided to visit the doctor.”

Her GP advised she take antibiotics for three days and return to monitor her progress, only, there was no positive progress to report upon her return – Vicki was far worse three days later. She was feeling so weak she could no longer walk normally and needed a wheelchair to get her into the clinic. All it took was one look from the doctor before she urged her to be admitted to the hospital that very same day.

Blood tests were immediately run, and the results showed Vicki was severely anaemic and needed blood as soon as possible. The medical staff advised her white blood cell count was abnormally high and that additional tests were needed, but the worst was still to come. Much to Vicki’s surprise, further test results showed she not only suffered from pneumonia and Influenza A, but also a type of blood cancer known as Leukaemia.

As if the news weren’t shocking enough, her diagnosis meant she needed to be transferred into the isolation unit immediately. Vicki’s immune system was practically non-existent at this time, and her medical team needed to ensure she be in a safe environment. What followed were nine intense days at the hospital hooked up to different IV’s to try to get her infections under control before being able to treat the cancer.

Once her infections were cleared, Vicki was free to begin her chemotherapy sessions which were scheduled every 28 days, from the end of August 2016 to January 2017. During her first few months of chemo, her body wasn’t making any platelets or red blood cells which meant she was in need of several lifesaving blood transfusions. Luckily, half way through the treatment and after three units of whole blood, her body started producing its own red blood cells and her platelet count soon started to stabilise. Unfortunately, her immunoglobulin levels never came back to normal which is why Vicki now receives immunoglobulin therapy (IVIg) every 28 days to help her weakened immune system fight off infections and diseases. IVIg is a blood product made from plasma donated by NZ blood donors and is used to help people like Vicki, whose immune systems are no longer working properly.

Vicki’s chemotherapy finally came to an end, but her fight was far from over. Post-chemo, Vicki says she couldn’t function, couldn’t sleep and later developed neuropathy on both legs as damage from the chemotherapy (not to mention her massive weight loss of almost 30 kilos during the stretch of the chemo because she couldn’t keep any food or liquids down).

Despite all the hardship and pain, Vicki never gave up – she held her ground because she knew it would eventually pay off and pay off it did. Since receiving the regular lifesaving IVIg, she’s managed to make a most impressive comeback regaining her strength progressively. She’s since gone back to work full time and in addition, is taking professional development classes in the evening in the hopes to upskill in her profession.

“I’m able to do things at home that I wasn’t been able to prior! Before the IVIG I wouldn’t have been able to function like this but since then, I’ve come back to work and am able to live my life again – I can finally go out in public for crying out loud!”, says Vicki.

“To all the donors out there, your little hour, or your 45 minutes could save up to three people – I am one of them and I can’t thank you enough.”

 

To find out more about how you can become a blood donor, click here or call 0800 GIVE BLOOD.

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