Have you ever thought about where your blood goes when you donate? I certainly never did. I also never expected to be hosting a Halloween Birthday Blood Drive Celebration, but it’s 2020 and here we are!
Our story begins after three years of trying for our second child, when our rainbow baby decided to join us the month I was ready to give up. I remember laughing and crying because I was so excited to be pregnant, but so scared as we waited for our first doctor’s appointment to confirm the pregnancy.
Within seconds, I saw the heartbeat and breathed a sigh of relief because I felt like the hard part was over and it was all smooth sailing from here. Little did I know that at my twenty-week ultrasound we would receive the big news that would change our story forever. Riley was the statistical 1 in 100 babies diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, specifically Shone’s Complex, and she would require open-heart surgery and a blood transfusion shortly after birth. After absorbing the news, we moved into planning mode as everything in life was about to change.
Her birth was a whirlwind! I got to hold my girl’s hand for only seconds after she was born and then off she went for her first ECHO outside of my belly. Thanks to a donation from the Drew Brees Foundation, I was able to see my girl on camera once she made it to the NICU while I recovered from surgery. As luck would have it, the moment I could finally get to her room, the transfer team had already arrived and after a quick visit, I watched this incredible group of people prepare my baby girl for her first “car ride.” Since I was still recovering from a c-section, I had wait until the next day to be discharged so as they rolled her out I just sat helplessly in a puddle of tears hoping that the next day would be easier.
The next morning my doctors released me to recover in Riley’s CV-ICU room, so with the help of my sister-in-law, I packed my bags on Halloween night to make the 10 minute journey to see my baby girl. After twenty-four hours of waiting for this moment, my excitement turned to fear when I was wheeled into the CV-ICU unit and I realized how serious her heart condition was. I was totally overwhelmed with emotion as I passed each room, but as I as rounded the last corner I could hear everyone cheering “Mom made it!” and I was welcomed by everyone with open arms. I was so excited to see the staff gathered around Riley’s room in full Halloween costumes to tell me about Riley’s busy Halloween day, which included a visit from the transfer team with a special Halloween costume delivery.
It was a hard week as we adjusted to our new normal, but our friends and family distracted us with visits, books, and crafts along with taking care of Riley’s older brother. Our church brought us communion, baptized Riley in her hospital bed, and prayed by our side as we anxiously awaited Riley’s big day.
On the big day, after hours of surgery, bypass, and blood transfusion, our girl was stronger than we could have imagined! Words can’t express the gratitude I have for our care team as nothing can prepare you for seeing your child covered in tubes and wires, but they were right there to literally wipe my tears and guide us through Riley’s faster than expected recovery.
I certainly did not have many picture-perfect moments that you imagine when you are having a baby, but I walked away with everything I needed and more. I also walked away knowing that I left behind Moms, Dads, siblings, and friends that depend on volunteer blood donors to get their loved ones home, and I knew leaving the hospital that we had our work cut out for us.
So, to celebrate our girl in such a crazy year, we thought a First Birthday Halloween Blood Drive seemed like the perfect celebration of Riley’s journey and all of the angels that have watched over her, and a way for us to pay forward the things that were there when we needed them. We hope everyone signs up to donate Halloween morning, but blood drives happen all year long and when you donate blood, now you know that a small act means the whole world to a family in need.
Julie is a graduate of the Academy of the Sacred Heart and LSU, and now resides in Metairie with her husband, two kids, and dogs Abby and Kevin. She is a business consultant working in healthcare and her work primarily focuses on improving health outcomes across Louisiana. Her favorite part of living in New Orleans is going to Jazz Fest where all the things that make her happy come together in one place!