Although Erin Mounsey needed more blood during his first lifesaving procedure than others need in a lifetime, it wasn’t until much later that he realized how vitally important blood donations were to his survival.
“In general, I had never thought a whole lot about blood, or donating it,” said Mounsey, now 44. “And I certainly never thought I’d experience tragedy.”
Almost two decades ago, at age 28, Mounsey was using a lacquer thinner to strip varnish from the hardwood floor of an old Victorian home in Durango, Colorado. He closed the door to the room to keep the dog off the wet lacquer. Fumes built up, and when they hit the pilot light of an old gas heater, fire engulfed the room.
“The air was on fire,” Mounsey explained.
He suffered burns over 86 percent of his body.
“During that time, I underwent over 30 surgeries, the majority of which required blood,” he explained. “During the early hours of my fight for life, an escharotomy was performed, which opened me up like a fish being cleaned.”
He spent two months in a medically-induced coma, and his recovery — mentally and physically — was long. Two and a half years passed before he was able to tie his shoes or button his shirt, he said.
“So much of my journey was just surviving day to day that I really did not understand what was and had been going on,” Mounsey said. “I didn’t have a chance for a long time to reflect on what saved my life.”
But a few years in, Mounsey started actively studying medical journals and other publications to learn about his experience, and it was then that he started to understand how others — those he would never know — played such a vital role in his survival and recovery.
“Later, I realized my survival hinged on the blood donations of others,” he said.
Mounsey moved on to become executive director of the American Red Cross of Northern Colorado, and he now manages his own business, A Home for Life — a network of assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care professionals who provide personal care in real homes.
Mounsey continues to be an advocate for blood donations, including working with his Rotary Club to host an annual blood drive with the UCHealth Garth Englund Blood Donation Center. Garth Englund’s centers in Fort Collins and Loveland collect about 8,500 blood products each year through donors and host about 180 mobile blood drives.
All the blood that is donated to Garth Englund stays in northern Colorado, where the local need increases during summer months, according to Charles Kaine, the center’s blood donation recruiter.
“Statistically, we have more accidents in the summer months, so we need more blood,” he said. “And at the same time, we have fewer people donating because they’re busy and don’t get in to donate as often.”
The center schedules donation times for individuals or groups, such as friends or family members wanting to donate together, at one of their locations. Businesses and organizations also can request that the center bring one of its mobile blood buses to their location for a blood drive, which is how the Rotary Club drive is run. Call 970.495.8965 for more information.
“We will help those groups out as much as we can beforehand to get people signed up and educated about donating blood,” Kaine said. “And then we provide that-day support during the drive. We are also open to coming in and talking with groups.”
Like Mounsey realized years later, Kaine said, “It comes down to everyone knows it’s important to donate, but people don’t always realize why.”
Each donation can help up to two people, 20 percent of whom are children. About half the blood needed is for transfusions and other illness-related procedures, but a trauma victim can use up to 100 units of blood in just a few minutes.
What’s more, blood doesn’t last forever. Although plasma can be separated from the red blood cells and kept frozen up to a year, red blood cells are only good for 42 days.
“The challenge becomes that it take 56 days before you can donate again, so there is that shortfall that’s always out there,” Kaine said.
Donating blood is about a 45-minute process, but the actual donation — of one pint — takes about eight to 10 minutes. People can donate every 56 days, but the body replenishes the fluid lost during donation within 24 hours. It is important to eat a good meal and hydrate the day before and the day of a donation.
On June 14 — World Blood Donor Day — UCHealth is teaming up with The Human Bean. The Human Bean will be serving free coffee to those who donate at the center, and there will be a center donation bus station at one of the local Human Bean locations. People who want to schedule a time to donate, or who would like to invite the donation bus to their business or organization, can call the center at 970.495.8965.