Nicole Czelusta says it is her calling to advocate for blood donation. She shared her powerful journey with members of The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation board during their quarterly meeting Nov. 13.
Nicole and her husband C.J. have been board members since 2017 and champions for awareness in the community.
From a young age, Nicole was called on to be a blood donor advocate.
Her story began in October 1997 when Nicole lost her mother, brother, and best friend in a car accident. She was only 15 years old. Nicole coped by focusing all her energy to bring blood donation awareness hosting and organizing blood drives at Antonian High School.
“It can’t be bought, it can’t be sold, it must be freely given,” she said.
It wasn’t her last call to action. In 2009, Nicole pursued her dream job in nursing at a pediatric ICU in a level 1 trauma center where she witnessed first-hand the lifesaving power of blood.
“I had the privilege to care for kids with many different diagnoses…many times I could visibly see the changes in my patients, from the time the blood began infusing to the time it ended. The color in their faces and bodies came back…their eyes opened, they had the energy to talk, their breathing became less labored. It was like witnessing a miracle.”Nicole Czelusta
Her academic, spiritual, and emotional experiences had Nicole feeling confident to speak of blood donation. She never expected what would happen next: becoming a blood recipient.
In 2015, Nicole was expecting twin girls: a miracle after much trouble conceiving. It was a healthy, uneventful pregnancy, one many doctors would consider a perfect pregnancy. C.J. and Nicole anticipated her C-section and meeting their girls. Up until the delivery.
She remembers her first-born’s face before being whisked away. She cannot remember the second’s, only hearing her cry, before she began losing strength.
“I started to tell C.J. that I felt really sleepy and couldn’t keep my eyes open,” she said. “I asked him if I had been given too much medicine…the anesthesiologist said I hadn’t been given anything.
“At that moment, I felt an overpowering sensation to close my eyes, one that I couldn’t fight.”
Nicole was hemorrhaging, going limp, losing color in her face. C.J. begged Nicole to stay awake. What was supposed to be their best day ever became a nightmare.
“I couldn’t speak or physically react. In my mind, I was answering him, and I heard the doctor ordering medications for a patient who was hemorrhaging,” Nicole said. “I could feel all the medical professionals poking and prodding me, trying to get additional IVs in me. I knew exactly what was going on, but I was trapped in my own mind and unable to speak or move.”
Nicole received four units of blood that day. It was the blood transfusion that brought her back to life and allowed her the second chance to live her life for her new babies.
“I told myself to open my eyes, and they did,” Nicole said. “There I was depending on someone else’s blood, someone else’s generosity to save my life.
“The person who donated that blood will never know they saved me, but I am grateful they paused whatever they were doing in their life and walked into the donation center. You could be that person.”