Blood drive nets 126 donations

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February 10, 2017

By Mike Killeen

When Molly Heller helps coordinate a blood drive at Saint John’s University, she’ll tell anyone who listens that donating blood gives hope.

She could just as easily point to herself and say, “I wouldn’t be here today without a blood transfusion I received when I was born.”

But that’s simply not her style.

“I usually don’t like being in the spotlight,” said Heller, a College of Saint Benedict senior who is coordinating her fifth and final blood drive Feb. 13-14 at Brother Willie’s Pub, SJU. “I feel like it’s something that needs to happen, but I like being in the background and seeing everyone be happy, knowing I’m helping.”

She has. In four previous blood drives Heller has coordinated at SJU, 579 donations have been received, which had the potential to help 1,737 people. “I think that’s amazing,” Heller said.

Even more so is her story.

Molly HellerWhen Karla Heller, Molly’s mom, came to Meriter Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, in August 1994, they attached a fetal monitor that found that Molly was in distress. That sent Karla to the operating room, where a cesarean section was performed to deliver Molly.

But several minutes after her birth, Molly started to turn blue. She received two units of red blood cells, and spent 10 days in the intensive care unit.

Her mother also needed the life-saving gift. Karla received one unit of red blood cells because she “lost a lot of blood” when doctors had to cut through the placenta, Molly said.

One other member of the family was receiving blood transfusions at the same time. Molly’s aunt, Kristy, was battling leukemia at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, a fight she would lose four months later.

Because of her family’s needs, Karla Heller became a spokesperson for the American Red Cross. She taped a public service announcement for the Dane County holiday blood drive for Channel 3000, a local news station in Madison, Wisconsin. Then, Karla and Molly were invited to Washington, D.C., to film a public service announcement with then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Dr. Bernadine Healy, president of the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross set up a press conference so Karla could tell her family’s story. Molly stood by her mother’s side at the podium when a reporter said, “Obviously, Molly is now a healthy little girl.” Molly spoke into the microphone and said, “That’s me!” as the room erupted with laughter.

Molly has continued in her mother’s footsteps. She and her family were featured on the National Public Television show “Health Diary. She also was featured on a public service announcement and YouTube video when she was 17. That’s not to mention the countless number of blood drives she has volunteered at.

“Even if it doesn’t directly affect them when they donate, they’re giving hope,” Heller said. “That’s the most important thing. It’s hard to help people realize that. Each pint of blood donated can save up to three lives, which is amazing.”

Molly says being part of a blood drive is just something she grew up with.

“I didn’t know anything different. I always sat on the cot beside my mom while she was giving blood. It was a huge part of my life — I’m very glad it was. When I had the opportunity to start coordinating the drive here at Saint John’s, I was like, ‘I’ll do that. Absolutely.’”