National Trauma Survivors Day: BLOOD RECIPIENT BRIAN BOYLE HELPS OTHER PATIENTS THROUGH HIS SERVICE TO THE AMERICAN RED CROSS

FROM TRAUMA TO TRIUMPH

brianboyle_recovery_100Every two seconds somebody in the U.S. needs blood. As a former trauma patient, I experienced this firsthand back in 2004.

My story begins one month after graduating from high school. I was coming home from swim practice, and I was involved in a near fatal car accident. The impact of the crash shifted my heart across my chest and collapsed my lungs. Just like my dreams for the future, my ribs, pelvis, and left clavicle were shattered. I sustained damage to practically every major organ in my body, including laceration of the liver and kidneys, and I experienced 60 percent blood loss.

Using the jaws of life, the rescue squads and firefighters had to free me from the wreckage at the accident scene. They later received awards for their abilities in rescuing me. I was immediately medevaced to the local trauma center. I was practically dead on arrival when I arrived at the hospital. I was soon given the last rites and my parents had to make the difficult decision to invite my family and friends to come say their final goodbyes, because it would be a miracle if I could survive the first 24 hours.

I survived the first day, followed by the second, and I would ultimately spend the next two months on life support in a coma. During this time frame, I underwent 14 major operations, received 36 blood transfusions and 13 plasma treatments. I ended up losing a total of 100 pounds. I remember overhearing that there was a strong possibility that I would spend the rest of my life in a nursing home in a vegetative state.

I’ll never forget the pain and suffering in the eyes of my parents, and I soon realized that what they were experiencing was far worse than my own pain. After a little over a month and a half, I began making my slow comeback from my paralyzed state. Starting with the blinking of an eye, the most subtle shake of a hand and eventually a faint smile, my parents knew that I was still there and fighting for them.

I began several months of intense physical therapy where I had to relearn how to talk, eat, tie my shoes, take a shower, and eventually walk with a cane. One year after the accident, I was beginning my freshman year in college and I had the fortunate opportunity to swim in the first swim meet. In October 2007, the healing was finally complete when I crossed the finish line of the Hawaii Ironman triathlon.

To show my sincere gratitude, I went back to the rescue squads and various hospitals to thank these amazing people firsthand. I soon began speaking with other patients and families to offer support, motivation, and help them navigate as they began their journeys of healing. To further help improve the patient experience, I became a dedicated patient and healthcare advocate and began traveling the world speaking with medical organizations, hospital associations, and many patients and families about
their experiences in the health care setting.

After many conversations with my care providers, I became aware that there was also another group of people that played a very important role in my survival — my 36 blood donors.

For more than a decade, I have proudly supported the Red Cross mission by hosting dozens of blood drives across the country, donating blood on several occasions, speaking at hundreds of events to raise awareness on the importance of blood donation, participating in more than five dozen endurance events wearing 36 tiny red crosses on my race suit in honor of my blood donors. I wanted to do all that I could to offer support for patients in need.

I received 36 blood transfusions over the course of my emergency treatment and recovery. I think about these selfless people every single day. Their blood was not only lifesaving, but also lifegiving.

Since my trauma, I’ve been able to make a full recovery, finish college, go on to earn my master’s degreeat Johns Hopkins University and get married in 2013. My most cherished moment over the years came about last July when my wife and I welcomed our first child into this world, a daughter that we named Clara in honor of Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross.

As a former trauma patient and blood recipient, I have dedicated my life to supporting the Red Cross mission. By giving just one hour of their time, my blood donors not only helped give me the chance at a lifetime, but to also bring new life into this world.

To help meet the needs of trauma patients, please consider giving blood or platelets or hosting a blood drive with the Red Cross. Find opportunities at: RedCrossBlood.org.

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UltraRunning Magazine: One Hundred Miles of Gratitude

IMG_5039UltraRunning Magazine

March 2018 issue

The adrenaline was electric at the starting line of the Devil Dog 100 ultramarathon in Prince William Forest Park, Virginia. It was 5:59 a.m. on December 2, 2017 and with only a minute to go, I glanced at the faces around me, their physical and emotional energy glowing under their headlamps, and I wondered what motivated all these incredible athletes to pursue this event. As for me, I glanced down at my bib number where I had written the names of 170 generous people that pledged to donate blood to support my Red Cross virtual blood drive – they were my motivation.

The gun went off and I focused in on running one mile at a time, hoping that the past six months of training would get me to the finish line. The first loop, miles 1-20, went by in a steady blur as I charted out various markers on the course to be aware of for the upcoming laps. Early on, I stayed with a pack of runners in a single file line at a 10-minute-per-mile pace, our headlamps illuminating the course in front of us. I continuously studied the course in front of me, on alert for any root, rock or any hidden debris that could twist an ankle or worse. In the sub-freezing temperature, I kept trying to blow my exhaled breath downward so it didn’t cloud my foot placement. The last third of the loop included a variety of technical inclines that forced me to slow the pace to a careful walk.

The second loop, miles 21-40, the pace remained steady. With the energy still high, I spoke to several of the runners that had  shared the same pace – learning where they were from, how many ultras they completed, what their estimated finish time was and other information.

Once I reached the halfway mark during the third lap (miles 41-60), I felt a sense of reassurance. Right before the sun went down, I was able to see my parents at an aid station. We were very happy to see each other, even if only for a few short minutes, but it was enough to give me some much needed inspiration.

On the fourth lap, miles 60-80, I felt a surge of energy and increased the pace for as long as I could. I knew I had to conserve energy for the last loop, but I wanted to make the most of this second wind that I had after seeing my parents.

By mile 92, the surge slowed back down and I alternated a fast walk/jog strategy. Through the trees, I watched the sun begin to slowly rise and I could hear the sounds of nature and wildlife preparing for the new day – the birds, insects, and the sound of my tired feet crunching through the path covered in leaves. I breathed in deeply as I reflected on how magical this moment was, noticing that the sun’s reflection off the tiny dew droplets looked like thousands of diamonds in every direction. Watching the sunrise was an awakening for the mind, body and spirit.

With a few miles left, I was reduced to a moderate walk and I kept glancing at my watch to see my pace and the time, but most of all my heart rate.

Watching the blinking heart icon made me reflect on how special this event was and just how amazing it is to be alive. Thirteen years earlier, I was in ICU in critical condition, in a coma for two months, resuscitated eight times, and was given 36 blood transfusions and 13 plasma treatments throughout my 14 lifesaving operations. I had been in a near fatal-car accident coming home after swim practice.

And now, here I was celebrating 10 years of competing in endurance sports and approaching the finish line. I looked down at my bib number that included the 170 names. As a blood recipient, these generous people were my motivation to not only start this race, but to also get to the finish line.

After 26 hours and 48 minutes, I crossed the finish line through the support of my parents, wife, four-month-old daughter Clara, and my Red Cross colleagues, Donna and Kamenna. In my years of competing in endurance sports, I’ve learned that a race may be run alone, but in no way is it ever an individual effort. I was able to improve my 100 mile time by 3 hours and surprisingly place ninth overall, enjoying every mile, breath, and heartbeat along the way.

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American Red Cross Annual Report: Brian Boyle

"A blood donation can make the difference between life and death. I am living proof of this." - Brian Boyle, volunteer, blood recipient/donor

RACING TOWARD LIFE

July 6, 2004. One moment, 18-year-old Brian Boyle was driving home from swim practice. The next, he was in a hospital bed, unable to speak or move. A natural athlete, Brian was now using all his lessons learned from team sports to survive. “Sometimes you do everything right, and life still doesn’t follow the path you thought you’d be on,” he says.

A dump truck had broadsided his car, and he needed immediate surgery. His heart had been pushed from one side of his chest to the other. He was resuscitated eight times. The only physical hope for his survival was the gift of blood. Sixty percent of Brian’s blood was replaced through transfusions given by volunteer donors.

As he inched his way back to life, Brian wanted to reassure his parents. “I was their only child,” he says. “I wanted to give them a sign I hadn’t stopped fighting. What better way than to smile?” Then, gradually, he squeezed hands, wiggled his fingers, and blinked. “Once I was able to talk, I never wanted to be quiet again,” he laughs.

Two months later, when Brian entered rehab, he knew he wanted to make a difference. “I was alive! I wanted to take my experiences and help others. I started at the very foundation of my recovery—the blood donors, who were there from the get-go.”

He began by giving testimonials and speaking about blood donation, then by sponsoring 5K races for blood donation, still later by hosting blood drives. Now as a volunteer spokesperson for national blood campaigns, he wears the American Red Cross emblem proudly at all his athletic events.

“Blood is needed every day for emergencies like mine, as well as for those with chronic conditions. For nearly 5 million people every year, a blood donation can make the difference between life and death. I am living proof of this.”

Brian’s determination and athletic spirit led to a rapid recovery. He’d make a new goal every day. By December, he was walking and, soon after, started swimming. Several months later, he stepped onto his new college campus and swam his first stroke with his college team.

Now there was no holding Brian back. In 2007, Brian finished his first Ironman triathlon. “I had lost 100pounds and had only weeks to train for it,”he says. “My story of survival made me believe I could attempt these races. When I crossed the finish line, I knew I was fully healed.”

In 2009, Brian made his own first blood donation at the hospital that brought him back to life. Brian graduated from college with honors and is now a public speaker about the patient’s perspective when dealing with health issues. “My work with the Red Cross has made all the pain and suffering worthwhile,” he says. “I am blessed.”

Today, Brian blogs about racing and blood donation at redcrossblood.org/ironheart

And to watch the video that accompanies this article, please visit the American Red Cross Annual Report website.