For Susie Lee, mother of two daughters and a retired nurse, giving comes naturally. She has given blood for 45 years and even donated a kidney to her husband’s cousin. When asked about her motivations, Susie had two very personal reasons: Danilo and Sakura. While the names are made up to ensure confidentiality, the story is certainly not.
While working as an RN for Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women & Children, Susie met a young boy we’ll call Danilo. This cheerful youth was actually struggling for his life in a battle with cancer and was receiving chemotherapy. When Susie discovered she had the same blood type and that Danilo needed white blood cells, she stepped up and volunteered to donate her blood so that he could live.
“Of course I wanted to help him,” Susie recalled. “How could you not? He was happy and full of life. I was saddened to hear what he was going through.” But what really changed things for Susie is when she had the opportunity to meet Danilo. She walked into his room, holding her own blood bag, and told him, ‘This is for you!” Susie will never forget the happiness that he showed her that day and the opportunity she had to look into the eyes of the little guy whose life was quite literally in her hands. “It made one of those “forever” impacts on me!” said Susie.
After hearing of this story, one of her coworkers approached Susie to ask if she would help another person, this time a woman who was receiving chemo as well. “I agreed and also had the chance to meet and talk with [Sakura]” Susie said. “To stand in front of the person you are helping is so humbling.”
Much later in a twist of cruel irony, Susie faced the news that she had colon cancer at age 35. “It was 1989 and I was devastated. Thankfully I beat it, but at the time, I was not allowed to give blood anymore.” Years went by and in 2013, Susie reached out to the Blood Bank of Hawaii to see if anything had changed with the FDA regulations and was elated to discover she could donate blood again! Susie decided to give away her platelets because she knew the desperate need for them in our community.
She said, “Even though I won’t meet the people who receive my blood, the experience I had many years ago remains in my mind and it doesn’t take much imagination for me to know the impact I’m having on the lives of my friends, neighbors or anyone else in my community who might be the recipients. I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to give again.”