Before Mackenzie James-Wong was born, prenatal ultrasounds and testing diagnosed her with TAR syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that meant she was missing a bone in each forearm and had a dramatically low platelet count. Doctors also detected a heart defect that would require surgery immediately after she was born. Her mom Lindsay changed her birth plan so she could deliver at St. Joseph Hospital, and Mackenzie could immediately be under the care of nearby CHOC.
Her family’s relationship with CHOC’s Blood & Donor Services Center started when Mackenzie was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). They quickly learned how many transfusions lay ahead of them.
A healthy baby’s platelet count at birth is 50,000. Mackenzie’s was just 13,000. She needed transfusions right away. Mackenzie spent the first six weeks of her life at CHOC, and received dozens of platelet transfusions during that time. Over the next three years, she received nearly 200 blood and platelet donations.
“Sometimes she needed two transfusions in the same day. Eventually it slowed to every other day, and then once every 10 days, but then we regressed back to every four or five days,” said Lindsay. “The team from Blood & Donor Services visited us in the NICU, and educated us about the importance of finding regular donors who were a match for Mackenzie and who could provide a reliable and steady stream of platelet donations to fulfill her needs.”
The Blood & Donor Services Center identified two donors who were each a perfect blood and platelet match for Mackenzie. With her family’s permission, the donors heard Mackenzie’s story and how they could help. They opted into the Designated Donor Program, which allows a donor’s blood and platelets to be directed to a specific CHOC patient in need. Mackenzie has since met her donors, who have become part of her family, Lindsay says. Every year in December, one donor dons a Santa Claus suit, grows out his beard, and brings Christmas gifts to his donation appointment for Mackenzie and her older sister. The pair of donors come to Mackenzie’s birthday party every year, and have been known to rush home from vacation to make special platelet donations if Mackenzie is in need.
Every time Mackenzie has an appointment at CHOC, she stops by the Blood & Donor Services Center with her mom to personally thank donors for helping kids just like her.
“I tell these donors every time I see them that they are literally saving my daughter’s life with every donation,” says Lindsay. “She would not be here without platelet donations. When they donate blood and platelets at CHOC, it stays at CHOC to help patients like my daughter.”
In 2015, CHOC donors supplied 45 percent of the blood and platelets needed by CHOC patients requiring a transfusion. CHOC had to purchase the remaining needed blood products from outside sources.
“Having blood and platelets come directly from our blood donor center allows us to have the freshest blood available to meet the critical needs of our patients, and support our recently opened Trauma Center,” said Colleen Casacchia, RN, manager, CHOC’s Blood & Donor Services Center. “CHOC relies on blood donors in our surrounding communities to help meet our patients’ transfusion needs. One blood donation can save two lives and only takes about one hour of time every two months.”
Donating blood and platelets at CHOC has become a family affair for Mackenzie’s relatives. Her dad, grandparents and aunts all donate blood and platelets at CHOC in honor of Mackenzie.
For Lindsay, donating blood began at a young age. She celebrated her 17th birthday by making her first blood donation. Although she isn’t a match for her daughter, she regularly donates blood at CHOC to help other patients in need.
“I can’t always give financially, but blood is something I have plenty of, and it really doesn’t take that much time out of my day,” she says. “It was always something I was passionate about, but once it hit my family, I realized how life-saving it truly was. I want other persons to realize how important it is to donate blood and platelets, before someone in their family has a need for it.”