Living off kindness: Blood transfusions save Baton Rouge child

Updated: Nov. 2, 2019 at 11:19 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood, and hospitals are facing an uphill battle to meet the demand. But you can help and it may mean more for you than you can imagine.

“To be a mom and not be able to fix things is not an easy thing,” mother Renee Heath said.

It was ten years ago on Friday, Nov. 1, when Heath learned the thing she held closest to her needed fixing.

SEE ALSO: Where can I donate blood?

“This little boy that you love and you just brought – you don’t know how to fix it,” Heath said about her son Preston.

Preston’s body was starving him of his own blood. When the 2-year-old was diagnosed with a bone marrow disorder, he had 2,000 platelets flowing through his veins – 250,000 shy of survival.

“We wanted to do all we could to help him and make him better, and then once he started getting the transfusions – we relied on everybody else to help him and we were always so grateful,” Heath said.

Preston called the yellow, donated platelets he took twice a week 'lemonade.' For six months, he lived off kindness.

“We spent hours at the clinic, days at hospitals. But he did really well for being so young.”

SEE ALSO: Can I donate blood?

Ten years later, he's a healthy outdoorsman with two little brothers. Those hunting trips - only possible because of people like Cindy Peno, 'platelet queen' as she's called at the blood bank.

“If someone is ill or has been going through cancer or treatment or whatever – and they need blood products? I might not make you a casserole, but I got my blood and you can have my blood,” Peno said.

Peno estimates she gave 80 gallons of blood last year, the maximum 24 different platelet donations – driven by a little healthy competition with a group of men who said a woman couldn't do it.

It's a habit she picked up from her dad, a giver, and Peno's daughter, Jill, was his spitting image.

She didn't just look him, but acted like him, too. But doctors found the brain tumor that eventually took her life.

"I guess I was jealous,” Peno said. “The last thing I put into his ear before he left was, 'Kiss my girl for me.’ I knew where he was going and where she was."

Peno said she knew blood donations could not save Jill, but that they might buy her some time.

READ MORE: Blood recipient revived from the brink of death recounts what saved her life

She made it to 13 – just under a year after her diagnosis.

“I think of Jill every single time. It’s hard not to,” Peno said. “It’s been a long time, but it’s still like it was yesterday. She would be 39 right now and it’s why I do it and I feel like she’s there with me and she wants me to do it there are so many people that can’t and it’s just so easy for me.”

She'll tell you it's a rewarding responsibility – knowing that she can help other mother's children – like she helped Preston when she donated in his name.

And it’s fitting that the same, kind blood she inherited from her father and gave to her daughter – is now flowing in others.

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