Donating Blood: The power of second chances

Car crash victim and offender team up to help others through blood drive as part of their own healing process .
November 20th, 2017

Linda Maher remembers going through a green light — and then there was a big thud.

Visit or call a center today to make an appointment to donate. Come in yourself, or schedule a group donation where you bring friends and family to your closest center to donate for a personal cause.

UCHealth Garth Englund Blood Donation Center, 1025 Pennock Place, Suite 104, Fort Collins; 970.495.8965

Hours:

  • Monday: 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. (Closed Christmas and New Year’s)
  • Tuesday: 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Wednesday: 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
  • Thursday: 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
  • Friday: 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies, 2500 Rocky Mountain Ave., Loveland;  970.495.8965

Hours:

  • Wednesday and Thursday: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

“I heard things and felt things, but I wasn’t sure what was going on,” she recalled. “I thought maybe I’d had a heart attack.”

But it wasn’t a heart attack. Maher’s car had been broadsided by another driver, who had run a red light. As she held onto a good Samaritan’s hand, she asked that he pray with her.

“I closed my eyes and that was it,” she said.

Linda Maher with her husband, Mike at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland in November 2015 after a car accident. Maher received 22 units of blood and platelets while surgeons repaired her bladder, kidneys, stomach and intestines, as well as her pelvis.

The importance of donating blood

Maher was rushed to UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, where over the next five days she received 22 units of blood and platelets while surgeons repaired her bladder, kidneys, stomach and intestines, as well as her pelvis.

“My body had been crushed,” she said. “Everything internal had erupted.”

Her husband was at her side, praying for her to live, as Maher continued in a medically induced coma for almost three weeks. When she finally became aware of what had happened, Maher asked about the accident, particularly about the person who hit her. She wanted to meet him.

Tony Gonzalez, who had turned 24 that Nov. 2 day two years ago, was driving his 1996 Mitsubishi Eclipse to his boss’ house to get a ladder.

“I looked down for a second, and when I looked up it was red,” he said. “It all happened really fast.”

Second chances

A longtime community volunteer for Fort Collins’ Restorative Justice Services, Maher knew that meeting Gonzalez could provide her with answers and help her heal — and she knew it had the potential to do the same for the young man.

That was evident this year on Nov. 14. Maher and Gonzalez came together to host a blood drive with UCHealth’s Garth Englund Blood Donation Center. Blood donations had saved Maher’s life, so she wanted to save others — and Gonzalez wanted to be a part of that.

Linda Maher, left, talks with Tony Gonzalez, during a Nov. 14 blood drive the two hosted together with UCHealth Garth Englund Blood Center in the City of Fort Collins courthouse.

Why donate blood

“In the back of my mind I always knew the importance of donating blood, but it really hit home after meeting Linda,” Gonzalez said.

Through a very planned and structured process with the Restorative Justice program, Maher was able to sit down with Gonzalez after the accident to begin the process of healing by discussing the incident’s impact on their lives, and how Gonzalez may help repair the harm caused by the incident.

Gonzalez had been sentenced to 10 days in jail, three years of probation and 80 hours of community service. Maher has helped direct that community service, and the two of them have spoken together at local Impact of Crime classes, and now, hosted the blood drive together.

“It’s not just about my community service,” Gonzalez said. “I feel this is something I need to do. And I’ve learned a lot from Linda.”

Maher said she, too, hadn’t really thought about the importance of donating blood until the accident.

“You just never know when it could be you,” she said. “And you take for granted that there will always be a supply, but that’s not the real truth.”

Linda Maher with her grandchild after the accident.

During the blood drive, 24 pints of blood were collected. The blood is split into plasma and red blood cells, doubling its impact, said Charles Kaine, the center’s blood donor recruiter.

The increased need for donating blood

“Our need for blood, on average, increases 20 percent during this time from mid-November through December,” Kaine said. “And then we see a drop of donations by 20 percent during that same time because everyone is busy and committed to doing a lot of other things. Between the two, we have a notable gap that we have to fill.”

When local donations don’t come in, the center has to purchase blood from outside the community. Kaine said he hopes that won’t be the case this year as next month’s calendar is full of blood drives throughout the community (Sign up for one today; see information box within this story for dates, time and sign-up link.). Potential donors can schedule an appointment at the center, which will maintain regular hours through the holiday season.

Having a chance to help their community has been encouraging for Maher and Gonzalez.

“Tony and I have a good connection, and this process has given us hope,” Maher said. “It’s allowing us to move on with life, and we wanted to be able to give that to others.”