by Arti Sharma, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross North Texas
Michael Leirer, 47, knows all too well the importance of donating blood. Needing regular bood transfusions, this process is all too personal and an everyday actuality. When he was a child, Michael and his brother were diagnosed with Thalassemia—a blood disorder.
[Thalassemia] doesn’t allow my body to reproduce red blood cells, and the only way that I [can] survive is by getting blood transfusions every few weeks,” said Michael.
As a young boy, Michael and his brother frequented the hospital room. He so vividly remembers the anticipation of getting what each of us need and most of us generate: blood.
When I was young, I was in the hospital for 2-3 weeks a month getting blood transfusions. The only way to keep us alive [was] to get transfusions. [As a child] we would get two pints of blood every [time]…. The blood was always a product of the Red Cross,” said Michael.
Since the start, Michael has gone each second of every day grateful for the blood he has and for those who selflessly donated what is, for him, a gift of not only life—but one of hope. As he sat in sterile hospital rooms, awaiting blood that would make the days ahead possible, it became a hope persistent and strong enough to shatter the confines of odds that were stacked against him and list of “never’s” that his doctors outlined for him.
Throughout the decades, Michael obliterated the “never’s” that were spelled out for him. Including that he would “never” live this long. “Without [donated] blood, I would not have made it,” Michael says with certainty and undeniable appreciation.
As generously donated blood courses through his veins, so does the gratitude he has for the people he continues to carry with him: the unknown faces of blood donors who answered the call for help, rolled up their sleeves, and gave and continue to give the gift of life.
Michael does not take this image for granted; it is deeply etched in him and the tapestry of gratitude he devotes to each day he wakes up. It has taken him to 34 different countries where he has delivered humanitarian aid and disaster relief. In each of these places, whether helping to build an AIDS hospital in Kenya or carving out a path in Honduras, he served to alleviate the pain and suffering of those who did not have the basic needs of clean water, medicine or food. “Those [blood donors], will always be part of my life…[they] give me strength to bring hope to a very broken world,” he shares.
Today, Michael is the Disaster Program Manager for The American Red Cross in Texoma. He continues to subscribe to the mission of alleviating human suffering through this work. “Even if it is a bottle of water, I want to be the person that people turn to for help. Every day I wake up thinking there might be something I can do for someone.”
Because of donated blood, Michael does something he loves. That is why thinking about blood shortages is a scary thought for him; he knows that a delay in receiving blood means that he will not get to be there for others. But even more critical: the longer he goes without it, the more his organs become susceptible to failure. So, for Michael, the threat of missing blood is personal, with real stakes. And for those times he goes to the hospital for a blood transfusion, fearing a shortage, the sight of a Red Cross package awaiting in his room means that there is lifesaving blood; it means that, in plain view, there is literal relief.
Michael shares that the need for blood is relatable to everyone, even those who have not witnessed what it is to be without it. “At any moment at any second someone could be in an accident; or there could be a disaster, and they will need blood. [Blood] is like oil…that can eventually dry up. If we don’t continue to donate, we are going to dry up our banks….at any moment anyone can [be in need of donated] blood,” Michael says. And for every moment we take it for granted, at any moment the need for blood can mean the difference between life and death.
That is why, Michael, who has blood type A, stresses the importance of the Red Cross Missing Types Campaign which encourages people to give blood—especially those who have the most in-demand and common types: A, B, O.
If you are unable to donate blood, you can still help by supporting the Red Cross and encouraging other to donate on your behalf. Be inspired by people like Michael who go each day with abounding gratitude for the people who help to keep him alive. Share #MissingType on social media and show the urgency behind this campaign by shading out the letters A, B, O from your name.
Any of your efforts will spread a lifesaving message. Because if blood is precious, let it not be for its scarcity; let it be because it is the commonality in each of us that sustains us, that—in a vast, forever growing and changing world—connects us all to the essence of humanity.