A Birthday Gift

The New Sun

When I woke up this morning,

blood was on my mind.

Editor's Note: Rosemary Breslin wrote this story in 1994. She passed away on June 14, 2004, at the age of 47.

It's something I've been thinking a lot about lately. Maybe that's because I don't have any. Same old story. You always want what you don't got.

This whole blood thing got started when my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday. {March 23rd.} I thought I wanted a Giorgio Armani suit. I have always wanted a Giorgio Armani suit and I was certain those were the words that would flow effortlessly out of my mouth. I was already on my way to the store.

"I want you to donate blood," some other person answered. Who was this person? Not me. I wanted a Giorgio Armani suit. "I want you and all my friends to donate blood for my birthday," this person continued. Shut up already, I wanted to tell this person. You're robbing me of my Giorgio Armani suit.

"Donate blood? That's not a present," my husband answered.

"It is for me," this other person answered. I gave in. The suit was history.

It's a sad fact that lurking somewhere inside my greedy exterior is a decent human being. But don't think I'm too selfless. I want some of that blood for myself. After all, my dad doesn't call me Morticia for nothing.

When I celebrate my 37th birthday, I will also celebrate (not quite the right word) exactly five years of being sick. Five years ago, something in my body began killing off my red blood cells before they were released from the bone marrow.

In the beginning, I had several blood transfusions. Until last August I had responded to other treatments. But since then everything else has stopped working. Now, every two weeks, I truck on up to the Adult Day Hospital at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and get pumped up with two pints of red blood cells. This is what it takes to keep me alive.

Without the blood, I could probably last a month at the most. The last two weeks I would not be able to get out of bed and would only be able to breathe with the help of an oxygen mask. And then that would be it. Gone, like Ali MacGraw in Love Story.

With the blood transfusions, I've got this life I really dig. I work, go to the gym, hang with my friends, have the greatest marriage in the entire world. And all because of two pints of red blood cells every two weeks, four pints a month, forty eight pints a year. That's what gives me my life. Forty eight pints of blood.

Doctors say my condition is not fatal and if it doesn't go away or nothing else works I could live for the rest of my life this way. Think about it. Forty eight pints of blood is what stands between me and Ali MacGraw in Love Story.

That's where you come in. You had to know this was too easy, that there was a hitch. I need your blood. At the hospital where I receive treatment, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, there is a severe shortage of blood. In 1993, 1,700 people donated blood; the hospital used 22,508 units. This is New York City. That's the best we could come up with. More people hit the Barney's warehouse sale in a few hours than that. Sure, we'll line up around the corner for a clothing sale, but to save someone's life, well we're too busy, who wants to be stuck with a needle, and what about AIDS.

In 1993, Sloan-Kettering had to get out there and buy 20,808 units of blood from other parts of the country. They paid cold hard cash for blood that the citizens of New York state could have donated.

It takes between five and seven minutes to donate a unit of blood. That's it. Oh, you may have to wait a few minutes, the way you do for a haircut or a manicure. And that excuse about AIDS, I'm sorry I just don't buy it. There has never ever been an incidence of AIDS or anything else caused by a blood donation. It's completely safe. The worst thing that can happen to you is if you eat too many Oreos afterwards.

With all this talk about the Clinton Health Plan, I wonder why nobody's thought of giving people a tax break or an automatic $100 off their taxes or taking money off their insurances premiums each time they donate blood. Maybe New York State or City should offer some incentive. Ten free subway rides if you donate blood.

Experts say people are more inclined to donate blood if they have a sick friend or relative. If you need to put a face on it, put mine. Think that seven minutes of your time gives me seven days. You want me to get really shameless. Picture a four-year-old girl who has had a bone marrow transplant and is being treated with chemotherapy and radiation. Your blood could keep her alive. Or picture a young woman who recently shared a room with me. She's never going to see 30, but your blood would give her a chance to feel good even for a short while. I've seen people who I clock as goners before their transfusions and then run into them afterwards and they look pretty healthy. It can be that dramatic.

But forget the numbers. What do they really matter? What matters is that seven minutes of your time helps give someone else their whole life. You want to feel like a big shot? That should do it. We all want to be heroes. So go give blood and tell your friends, "I saved a little girl's life today." Or a little boy's. An old man's. An old lady's. Mine. Pick any type you want and I guarantee there's somebody who fits the picture. Someday, hopefully not, you may fit the picture.

I don't care if you go to my hospital or one near you or a blood bank, just go somewhere and walk out feeling like a real hero. There's a serious shortage of blood almost everywhere right now.

In the meantime, when my friends ask me what I want this year I'm going to ask them to donate blood. After all, what am I going to do with a Giorgio Armani suit if I'm not alive to wear it.

Rosemary Breslin has written for the New York Daily News and New York Newsday, and for the television show NYPD Blue, (ABC Television, Tuesdays). She is presently writing a book.

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If you want to donate blood or platelets at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City call, (212) 639-7643. If you have any questions at all-no matter how silly then may seem -- call the Coordinator of Recruitment, Elizabeth Wydler at (212) 639-8177. She's waiting for your call.

Or call your local blood bank or hospital.