Why I Donate

By Patrick Fenton*

It was a chilly Friday afternoon. Our high-school baseball team was finishing its first week of practice. Though the sun was bright, the temperature was a very breezy 35 degrees. Our coach, a former minor-league baseball player, was a strict taskmaster who seemed to believe the most important skill required for this sport was an ability to run long distances causing many of us to wonder if we were actually training for cross-country.

Each day during this week, we were required to run from our high-school locker-room to the middle-school parking-lot where our coach would wait leaning against his red pickup. Coach said nothing; simply extended his index finger and pointed back in the direction from which we had come. Each day, we ran nearly six miles from the high school to the middle school and back again. With pained expressions, we made our way through the first week of baseball practice having never touched a baseball.

Oh, but this was Friday—the final day of a very long week. Perhaps this was why we weren’t grumbling as intensely as the other days. In fact, our pace seemed faster as we anticipated the upcoming three-day holiday weekend.

As we made our way along the sidewalks, the gap between each runner grew wider. It was not long before I would look over my right shoulder and see only my best friend, Matt. The other players had fallen behind. Matt and I played outfield. We weren’t as big or strong as the others but we were the fastest. Each day of this initial week of practice Matt and I had been first to reach the high school; this day was to be the same. However, what happened on this day would change the course of a predictable afternoon and the rest of my life. I quickened my stride, hoping to stay in front of Matt.

Friday afternoons have a way of being a break from the regular, perhaps because it is the last day of the work week or the first day of the weekend, we are in a rush to reach home. One such individual, trying to be home by 4:30 so he could take his wife and kids to a nearby mall, decided to pass a school bus on a residential street.  As the man passed the school bus he found himself directly in the path of an oncoming vehicle. Rather than slow down and move back behind the school bus, this driver jerked his steering wheel to the left and ended up driving on the sidewalk. Neither Matt nor I saw the car, which struck Matt from behind, hitting me a second later. I have no memory of the impact. I do remember waking three days later in the ICU surrounded by white sheets, pillows, curtains and lights wondering if I was in heaven. Then I heard a voice alerting the doctor that I was awake.

As I tried to raise my head to see who was in the room, I felt very weak. I saw a cast that covered my right arm from just above the elbow to the palm of my hand; only my fingers were visible. I pulled back the sheets to find another cast covering my right leg; only the tips of my toes could be seen. The left side of my face was bandaged, along with my left thigh. It seemed like hours before I realized I was in a hospital.

My mother and father appeared. For the first time I saw my father cry. I knew my situation must be very serious if he was brought to tears. My mom struggled to speak, but she was able to tell me “you guys were hit by a car.”

“Guys, what guys?” I asked. My mom stroked my hair and told me Matt was also hurt.

I tried to sit up to see if Matt was here, too, then realized mine was the only bed.

“Where’s Matt?”

My dad struggled with the words: “He died.”

I could feel the tears rolling down my cheeks. Matt and I had been friends since we were six. He was my best friend and the first person I ever knew to die.  Now, 36 years later, I still cannot put in to words the grief and sorrow I felt that day.  Why, I wondered, was I here instead of Matt?

In the minutes that followed, I learned the extent of my injuries. My right elbow was shattered, Achilles tendon severed, right ankle broken, muscles and tendons in my right leg torn.  A shard of wood from a telephone pole had pierced the left side of my face near my eye.  had broken ribs, bruises, scrapes and a serious head injury. For the rest of the day, I stared blankly at the ceiling pausing only to cry and feel sorry for myself.  Feelings of grief and guilt consumed me. At the end of the day, I was given something to help me sleep, the first and last time I would ever take medication to help sleep.

The next morning I awoke to see my mom and dad standing beside the bed. My dad asked if I would like to see two visitors, Matt’s mom and dad. They approached with tears in their eyes. Only a few days after losing her son, Matt’s mom leaned over and wrapped me in her arms. She looked directly in my eyes two inches from my face: “You make each day matter. Never let a single day go by without looking at the sky, a bird, a tree or the sunset, and know how wonderful it is to be alive.” We have talked many times in the years since Feb. 17, 1978, but those are the words that I can never forget.

We were told I would probably never walk without a cane.

We were told I would never run or play baseball again.

We were told I would have limited feeling in my right forearm and hand due to nerve damage in my elbow.

By early June I had rejoined my summer league baseball team. The following season I was back in centerfield and batting leadoff. I would go on to play football in the autumn and basketball in the winter.

Today, I run five miles or more every day. When I feel down, I look at my scars and remember what Matt’s mom said to me.

I am alive today for several reasons: I received tremendous medical care after the accident and amazing therapy in the months that followed.  However, without the precious units of blood I received when I first was hospitalized, I would likely not have survived my accident.

The donors whose blood saved my life all those years ago are still saving lives today. I have no idea who they are but I repay my debt a little bit each time I donate platelets, ensuring their legacy. Donating blood, platelets and plasma impacts hundreds of lives. Those donors who saved my life have have given me the opportunity to enjoy a lifetime of sunsets, blue skies and time with loved ones. They also impelled me to live as a positive example to others.

If you can donate blood, please do so.  If you are unable to donate, please encourage others to give. Pass it on. Thank you.

*Patrick Fenton is a member of the OTIS Advisory Council – click on OTIS Advisors to view his photo and bio.

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