Heather Collicutt was the recipient of 11 blood transfusions after complications arose during a routine surgery in January. She wants others to know how much those donations meant to her. Colin MacLean/Journal Pioneer
Every drop counts
SUMMERSIDE – In a little interview room, Heather Collicutt spreads out 11 baby blue pieces of paper on the table in front of her.
The 34-year-old O’Leary woman handles each one with a degree of reverence as she takes them out of her purse; carefully unwinding the elastic band holding them together and placing each face up on the table.
When she’s done, she folds her hands in front of herself and lets out a little sigh.
She’s just finished a sometimes emotional interview and these cards represent everything she was there to talk about.
These are her blood transfusion cards. Each signifies that she was the recipient of a unit of donated blood.
“I look at them a lot,” admits Collicutt.
“They’re nice to have, and I wish I could put a name to them and thank the person.”
Collicutt wants to tell her story because she feels she owes a debt to 11 strangers somewhere out there. She wants them to know how grateful she is.
She also wants everyone to consider donating blood.
It could make all the difference in the world to somebody just like her.
“I had a lot of time this winter – six weeks in bed – I thought about it a lot. If it wasn’t for the people who donated blood, or the doctors, or the nurses, I might not be here. It’s been on my mind ever since,” she said.
“I want to give back what I took, and then some.”
On Jan. 9, Collicutt was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for a surgery to correct an overbite.
The operation was routine and scheduled to take about four hours; she should have been able to go home the next day.
But something happened during the surgery – exactly what is still being investigated – but at some point Collicutt started bleeding excessively.
She ended up being in the operating room for nearly 10 hours and required 11 transfusions of blood products to keep her alive while doctors tried to stem the flow.
She jokes that she started with one surgeon and ended with five.
She was unconscious for five days.
Nobody knew if she’d survive the first night after the surgery.
Her sister, Lori Murchison, a nurse, will never forget that day.
“It was scary,” said Murchison.
“Her hemoglobin kept dropping and they kept giving her more blood. The doctors had told me that the first 24 hours – they didn’t know which way it would go, whether she would survive or not … it scared me,” she said.
Murchison now works at the Mount Herbert Addictions Treatment Facility, but she has worked in hospital emergency rooms and has seen people in Collicutt’s condition.
But it’s not the same as seeing your sister like that, she said.
“It is different. You feel out of control and you feel the emotional part of it too.”
But Collicutt did pull through.
It took three months of recovery, but she’s doing OK now. She’s back to work keeping books for Matthews Lime Ltd. in O’Leary and she’s finally staring to feel like her old self.
But the experience has changed her – for the better, she hopes.
“Emotionally I found it hard to deal with. Knowing that they almost lost me,” said Collicutt.
“I take more time with my kids (she has two), my family, I do more with them. I have a different outlook on life – big time. It’s changed me emotionally a lot.”
She doesn’t remember much about the experience, only that she didn’t have any fear going into the surgery.
She remembers her doctor explaining the procedure – and saying that she might lose a bit of blood.
“I vaguely recall him saying you might lose this much,” she said, holding up two fingers a few centimeters apart to demonstrate.
“So when you set two cartons of milk beside each other – that’s a lot of blood,” she said.
The average human body hold about 5.5 litres of blood.
Ten months after her surgery, Collicutt wants to continue spreading the word about the importance of giving blood.
Those donations played a big part in keeping her alive – and she wants to return the favour.
Her family is proud of her, said Murchison.
“It’s good that something has come out of that. You don’t realize how much blood is used on a daily basis in a hospital … if she hadn’t had them she definitely wouldn’t have survived,” she said.
You never know, added Collicutt, the next person to need blood could be anyone.
“You see the commercials on TV and you think ‘I’ll never need that.’ But you just don’t know.”