Life-changing events convince airmen to stress blood donations

Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Kyle Harmon and his wife, Kristal, share a moment with their son, Mason. Without blood transfusions, Kristal might have died due to complications following the baby's delivery.

Kyle Harmon never gave the idea of donating blood a whole lot of thought. When he joined the Air Force a few years back, the Union, Ore., native went to a couple of drives and rolled up his sleeve to donate a pint when he could, but that was about it.

Now a staff sergeant with the 366th Security Forces Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base, it never crossed his mind that these blood drives would someday save the life of someone he loved -- his wife, Kristal.

Recently, the couple sat down and reflected on the life changing event that convinced the airman to become an advocate for blood donations. Holding her hand, he remembered how they were anticipating the first of their first child just seven weeks ago -- a son they named Mason.

They had no reason to suspect they would run into any problems related to his birth.

"Everything was perfect; a really quiet pregnancy with no complications," Kristal said. "He never even kicked me in the ribs."

When she went into labor on Feb. 23, they still took things in stride. Knowing they were still hours away from going into active labor, the couple decided to do some shopping in Boise in hopes of speeding up the delivery.

"We were trying to get walking and moving to induce labor," Kyle said.

When her labor pains became too much to bear, they drove back to base where Kristal was admitted to the hospital's maternity ward.

"It hurt a lot more than I thought it would at the point, and things were not progressing they way they should have," she said.

The delivery had other complications. To start, their son's position in the womb was reversed, making the delivery a lot tougher.

Her doctor then recommended breaking her water to start the contractions. It didn't help.

"Breaking the water made him stuck; he didn't have that cushion," Kristal said.

With the baby trapped, she spent the next 2 1/2 hours trying to push as the doctors tried in vain to pull the baby out. At that point, it was decided they needed to deliver the baby via a caesarean section.

Mason was born at 12:02 p.m. Feb. 24. Aside from some minor bruising on his forehead early in the delivery, he was a healthy child. His mother was wheeled into the recovery room where she was able to hold her son for the first time.

"Everything up to this point was pretty normal, other than the fact that we had to go through a C-section," Kyle said. "It wasn't much of a shock; it wasn't too serious."

Then everything started to go seriously wrong.

"After the C-section, they came in to make sure the uterus was clotting the way it should," Kyle said. "In the middle of that, they started to realize that it wasn't."

Within a span of 15 minutes, the number of people in her recovery room went from just one nurse to 12 people, all of them working to control the bleeding. As a precaution, the base hospital requested a Life Flight helicopter to fly down from Boise.

Meanwhile, the doctors used a procedure using a balloon inserted in the uterus to control Kristal's bleeding, which seemed to work at first.

"They thought I was stable, so my doctor went to do paperwork while his partner stayed and made sure everything was OK," she recalled.

But the balloon didn't hold, and things started going from bad to worse.

"She was still hemorrhaging," Kyle said. "That's the point where they decided they had to act now or it was too late."

"I was losing blood badly," Kristal added. "They were running out of options."

To keep her from bleeding to death, her doctors were forced to remove her uterus.

"The last thing I remember is my blood pressure dropping to about 60 or a little below that," she said. "And then the anesthesiologist said, 'She's dropping; we're losing her.' "

That's when Kristal lost consciousness.

The Life Flight helicopter arrived at the base hospital around the time doctors were able to stabilize her condition.

"When she started to hemorrhage the second time, we were lucky that the helicopter was already on scene," Kyle said.

Kristal remembers regaining consciousness for a brief moment during the helicopter flight to Boise before she woke up in a recovery room at St. Luke's Regional Medical Center around 9 p.m. that evening.

All total, she lost six liters of blood and needed more than 20 units of replacement blood before her condition stabilized. Putting that into perspective, an average person normally will not survive once they lose more than four liters, the couple said.

Kristal figures the extra blood she had built up during her pregnancy greatly improved her chances of survival until doctors could stop her from hemorrhaging.

"We cleaned them out of blood," she said.

With Kristal fully recovered, the couple hoped to find some way of repaying the community for the donations of blood that saved her life. That opportunity presented itself when Kyle received a message from his squadron first sergeant regarding the base's upcoming blood drive back in April.

He figures it was a way for the couple to repay the debt.

But he didn't do it alone. He gained plenty of support and encouragement from his supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Carolena Meredith.

The sergeant knows all too well the importance of giving blood. Her son, Sheppard, needed five infusions of blood shortly after his birth to combat a severe form of anemia triggered by his mother's rare blood type.

The daughter of a registered nurse, the sergeant has made it a point to roll up her sleeve and give blood whenever she learns about a blood drive.

"I have always given blood," she said. "It was just one of those things I did."

In fact, she still receives phone calls from her former duty station in New Jersey asking for ideas on convincing people to donate blood. Her suggestion: Use plenty of encouragement.

"I drag all my airmen to blood drives as often as possible," she said. "I tell then, 'I don't care if you're adverse to needles; you're going' (because) the more cops that we can get involved, the better off we are."

In many instances, people can safely donate a pint of blood once every 53 days, although some states have a minimum waiting period of two months. While those returning from deployments to places like Afghanistan and Iraq have to wait before they can donate, there's no reason why others can't participate, Meredeth said.

Today, the sergeant has a new reason to convince people to donate blood. The wife of a security forces airman is alive and well with a healthy child because people in this community rolled up their sleeves and gave blood without giving it a single thought, she said.

"I tell them that your brother is standing here with his wife because someone gave blood," Meredeth said.