Nicole and C.J. Czelusta
What part of the organization and mission speaks most to you and why?
There are so many aspects of our Foundation’s mission that have touched our lives both personally and professionally. My husband C.J. works in a community health clinic with many underfunded patients and has seen first-hand the lifesaving power of blood and blood products. My journey with South Texas Blood & Tissue began in high school.
In October, 25 years ago, my mom, my brother, and several friends were in a tragic car accident. My best friend Jessica Wellisch was an advocate for blood and tissue donation – she had introduced me to the cause. Sadly, she and my brother and my mom all passed. To help cope with the immense sorrow, grief and helplessness I felt, I decided to focus on what I could do, and that was bring awareness to blood donation by helping host blood drives at my high school. I became an advocate for blood, organ and tissue donation because of this experience and felt a strong call to help educate other young people on the topic.
It was because of this experience that I felt called to the nursing profession. After finishing nursing school and working in the pediatric ICU, I gained more experience with blood and tissue donation from a completely different perspective. I saw how meaningful and lifesaving it was for families and patients to receive and to donate. I spent extra time learning about organ and tissue donation through professional development activities offered at my hospital. Thinking that, I now had a full appreciation for the impact blood and tissue donation has on lives, I felt confident speaking to that. Little did I know that life had another perspective it wanted me to have – being the recipient of a blood transfusion.
In 2015 we were blessed with the news that I was pregnant with twin girls. My pregnancy was uneventful and healthy, I carried them to 38 weeks. During the delivery I began to hemorrhage. I passed out on the OR table, unable to respond despite hearing and feeling all the medical professionals attempts to revive me. My husband was at my side and suddenly the best day, the day we had been waiting for so long, became a nightmare. I don’t know how long I was out. t felt like a very long time although I suspect it wasn’t.
The first thing I remember after regaining consciousness was the team saying, “first bag of blood is in.” That blood transfusion literally brought me back to life so I could be the wife and mother that I always wanted to be. The person(s) who donated that blood will never know that it was MY life they saved. I didn’t go into the hospital that morning thinking I would need blood, and yet by midday there I was, depending on someone else’s blood to save my life.
We never know the path our life will take, nor why we have certain experiences in our life. With the benefit of hindsight, I feel all of these life experiences were leading me to be a strong advocate for blood and tissue donation. I am honored and happy to be able to tell my story and use my life experiences to encourage others to donate blood and bring awareness to such an important mission.
My husband and I truly believe that not only does blood donation save lives, but that the innovation that is taking place among all the subsidiaries of our organization in technology, process improvement, and coordination among public and private partners is increasing the quality and length of life for so many people in our community.
What do you like to do?
I love being a nurse and am passionate about education. I am curious about science and research and how it is used to improve patient care and inform clinical decision making. I also love to spend time really connecting with people and learning from them.
When not working at his very busy primary care practice, C.J. is an avid MLS and Premier League soccer fan, NBYSA volunteer coach for our kids, and also is a professional referee with the local San Antonio chapter. He also enjoys running, cycling, Formula 1 racing, beer brewing and teaching our kids German and Spanish. He is passionate about sports, medicine and education and truly loves when they intersect.
My husband and I have 3 young children, twin girls that are 7 years old and a little boy who is 5 years old, so we stay very busy with them. We enjoy traveling and exploring different parts of the US and have even braved some international travel with little ones! Since we live in New Braunfels on the river we are often kayaking or enjoying some of our favorite local breweries or biergartens.
What motivates you?
My passion for learning and helping people and my desire to leave the small space of the world that I inhabit better than I found it.
Is there anything about your time on the board you would like to share? Most cherished moments, greatest accomplishments, something you are looking forward to?
We have really enjoyed getting to know many of the wonderful people who serve on this board and their stories of why they serve. We are so honored to be a part of such an extraordinary group of people and feel our collective commitment and passion for the cause every time we gather. We are really looking forward to advancing our mission and promoting awareness of our work not only in Bexar County but in the surrounding counties that we serve.