A special kind of thanks: life

One family decides that for Thanksgiving they would donate blood to give back to the community that helped their loved one
January 24th, 2017
The Olsen family of Fort Collins decided they would show their thanks by donating in honor of their beloved Lois and those who donated to help sustain her life. From left, Garrett, Karl, Gerald, Heather and Ariane. Not pictured: Braden, Kari, Dan and Anders. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.
The Olsen family of Fort Collins decided they would show their thanks by donating in honor of their beloved Lois and those who donated to help sustain her life. From left, Garrett, Karl, Gerald, Heather and Ariane. Not pictured: Braden, Kari, Dan and Anders. Photo by Kati Blocker, UCHealth.

Despite losing their loved one only a month ago, the Olsen family found they still had a lot to be thankful for. And they knew exactly how they could show that thanks — by giving blood.

Nine members of the Olsen family — Gerald; his son, Karl; Karl’s wife, Heather; their children, Ariane, Braden and Garrett; Gerald’s daughter, Kari; her husband, Dan; and their son, Anders — spent the day before Thanksgiving at the Garth Englund Blood Donation Center in Fort Collins.

“What grandma went through put into perspective how important blood banks and donating are,” said 24-year-old Ariane.

Her grandmother, Lois Olsen, spent 19 years battling lymphoma. Then in late 2015, her disease relapsed after chemotherapy and her only viable option for treatment was a stem cell transplant, said Gerald, Lois’ husband, who worked as an ophthalmologist at Poudre Valley Hospital from 1972 to 2005.

Lois spent three months at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, during which time her own stem cells were collected. She underwent a stem cell transplant on Dec. 14, 2015. Eight months later, while at home in Fort Collins, Lois was diagnosed with a new cancer — myelodysplastic syndrome — which claimed her life in October 2016.

“Although she didn’t survive, blood was important in sustaining her life,” said Gerald Olsen, Lois’ husband.

So when the family gathered for a dinner three weeks after Lois’ death, nobody objected to the idea of donating blood as a family.

“It’s such an easy gift of life,” Heather said.

“It’s a small thing that can make a big difference,” added 19-year-old Garrett.

UCHealth’s Garth Englund Blood Center collects approximately 8,500 blood products each year through donors. All the donated blood stays in northern Colorado.

The donation process takes about 45 minutes from start to finish. The donor provides a health history, signs a consent form and is confirmed to be well enough to donate through a temperature, blood pressure, and finger-stick check. Once the needle is inserted into the vein on the inside of the elbow, the actual blood donation takes about five to 10 minutes. Afterward, the donor is sent off with a snack and often other treats, like a T-shirt.

Donations not only provide the bank with red blood cells. Plasma also is extracted from a qualified donor during a 40-minute blood donation. Donors also can choose to donate platelets — a 90- to 120-minute process. There is a higher demand for platelets because of their five-day shelf life.

“Lois received a lot of platelets and packed [red blood] cells,” Gerald said. “This is a tribute to Lois, but it’s also a way for us to give back to the community that gave to Lois for all those years.”

To donate or for more information, contact the Garth Englund Blood Center at 970.495.8965.

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.