By Velia Gonzalez
LatinaLista — When it comes to donating blood, the Latino community has a poor track record. In 2008, it was estimated that less than 4 percent of Latinos donate their blood. That fact is never appreciated until someone in the Latino community needs it.
While we think that anyone’s blood will do, there are certain elements in the blood unique to Latinos that makes it imperative that more Latinos hold out their arms.
Hispanics are the most likely group to have type O Blood. While in the U. S. population, approximately 45% of the general population has type O Blood, Hispanic Blood contains important antibodies, unique to the Hispanic population.
Additionally, many Hispanics carry a rare antigen in their Blood which could save lives needing that exact Blood. A reported 71% of Blood donors in Mexico are type O; 54% of Blood donors in Venezuela, and 62% in Guatemala are type O Blood donors.
Velia Gonzalez knows just how precious are Latino blood donors. Velia is a working mom to ten children, of whom three of her sons have a rare blood disorder.
Because of a post she published on her Facebook page about her family’s experience with the disorder, I invited her to share her story with Latina Lista readers — to inspire us all to take the time to donate blood and understand that it’s for people for whom the blood literally means a life or death situation.
It was August 6, 2001, and I was pregnant with my sixth son Julius Amadeus Gonzalez. I was ten days away from delivering him, when my 23-month-old, Juan Manuel Gonzalez III, a.k.a. Vito, became very ill with a high fever and an ear infection that he couldn’t shake off for several days.
My husband and I decided to take him to the ER to see if the hosptial could do something for him. He was immediately admitted due to his severe pale skin and yellowish eyes.
The nurses tried many times to draw blood from him, but were unsuccessful because they couldn’t find veins in his weak & helpless little body. Finally, they were able to draw some blood and about 1 hour later, a doctor walked in to tell us that our son needed an emergency blood transfusion or he would die.
His hemoglobin count was 2.4 — he was near death.
I wanted to die from the shock; my husband had no idea what was happening. They performed an emergency blood transfusion on my son that saved his life.
As a result, he was diagnosed with a blood disorder called Hereditary Spherocytosis.
The doctor said that my son inherited this disorder from one of his parents. My husband and I were both tested, and my husband was diagnosed as the carrier.
I went straight to my in-laws and questioned them about this. I found out that this was a very silent illness in the family that was in my father-in-law’s genetics. Somehow this blood disorder didn’t affect my husband as severely as it did my son.
Ten days later, Julius was born with Hereditary Spherocytosis as well. He stayed in the hospital for several days and received the Phototherapy Light treatment to keep his jaundice down.
What is Hereditary Spherocytosis?
I was on a mission to get as much information about this disease, but couldn’t find much about it at the time. In laymen’s terms, and based on my personal research, the red blood cells are sphere-looking instead of round, and when they flow through the spleen, and are destroyed.
This causes the person to have severe anemia (lack of oxygen) and feel exhausted at all times. Any minor cold, flu symptoms or infection will trigger the blood count to drop and therefore require an immediate blood transfusion.
This fatal blood disorder affects about 5% of the population and affects the liver, spleen, gall bladder and kidneys. There is no home blood kit that could determine the state of Hereditary Spherocytosis like diabetes. The individual must see a hematalogist monthly to be tested.
I’m happy to report that Vito is now 10-years-old, loves basketball, enjoys drawing and is writing his third book. He also plays piano and guitar.
Julius is 8-years-old, has an interest in politics, would like to be the first Latino President of the United States and loves to read books. His future goal is to visit the White House — and perhaps live in it one day.
I didn’t mention Nico Giovanni earlier, but he is my 5-year-old son who also has Hereditary Spherocytosis and received a blood transfusion three weeks ago. He loves to sing and play guitars and plans to be a rock star!
To date, my children have received several blood transfusions, a spleenectomy and continue to have a tough time fighting illnesses like colds and asthma. Overall, I do consider myself blessed because there are people out there that have given blood and saved my children’s lives several times over.
Please give blood and don’t think that you’re doing it for nothing. Believe me, I’ve lived several times through the nightmare of almost losing a child, but someone with a big selfless heart donated their blood to save my children.
For information on giving blood, check out the Red Cross web site.