Neil Rininger, a native of Cincinnati’s West Side, was leading a “normal and uneventful” life—living with his wife and three boys in the same house he was raised in. He never would have expected a nosebleed to turn his family’s life upside down.
"One day my oldest, Derek, got his first nose bleed,” Neil recalled. “Naturally, being the father of 3 boys, I told him to stop picking at his nose and thought nothing of it. The next morning came, and so did another nose bleed—and this time, it was terrifying.”
After almost two hours of clots not holding, Neil and his wife rushed their son to the hospital. In the end, it took five hours to stop his nose from bleeding. But though they were able to stop the bleed, the ordeal wasn’t over.
“After losing so much precious blood, even more had to be taken for blood tests to find out what we had on our hands,” Neil said. “Pretty much every test came back negative—the only indicators of something wrong were his low blood counts.”
Three major components of blood are platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells. Platelets are a crucial element of normal blood clotting, and Derek's low count explained the uncontrollable nose bleed. A normal platelet count can range between 135,000 and 460,000, depending on the individual—but Derek’s platelet were at a mere 30,000, and quickly heading toward 0, and his red cells and white cells were also dangerously low.
A bone marrow biopsy explained why. Derek’s marrow was virtually void of stem cells that transform into vital red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
“Derek’s body could no longer keep up with the demand of blood, with his bone marrow around 5-10% cellularity. His ‘blood factory’ was failing him,” Neil recalled. “My son had Severe Aplastic Anemia.”
Not to be confused with anemia alone, Severe Aplastic Anemia is a rare blood disorder that affects only 600 to 900 people per year in the U.S. “Not the kind of one in a million club you want to be a part of,” Neil said.
Acquired Idiopathic Aplastic Anemia was Derek’s official diagnosis, and as of now, there is no cure for the disorder. There are only a few treatment options, or bone marrow transplant—all of which require blood transfusions in order to receive and survive the treatment. Derek began to receive transfusions of blood products soon after his diagnosis.
“In a three month period, Derek received 21 units of platelets and 10 units of red blood cells, sometimes needing two or three platelet transfusions per week. These transfusions saved his life, literally,” Neil said. “After every ‘bag of gold’ transfused, parents like me get a small sigh of relief in the midst of unimaginable crises. Platelets only live for about five days, so frequent donation is imperative for patients like Derek. Red blood cells are equally important to donate for kids like Derek—without them, he would eventually turn really pale and suffer severe fatigue, even risking organ failure.”
Blood transfusions were crucial in helping Derek feel healthy. “When he would be transfused a little more than once per month, it would instantly bring him back to himself,” Neil recalled. “His energy would almost instantaneously surge and his color would slowly come back.”
Because of this, Neil has a newfound appreciation for blood donors.
“Without so many people graciously donating, my son would have never got the chance to receive his life saving treatment,” Neil said gratefully. “With that time bought for Derek, his marrow was able to recover and he is now doing well.”
Aplastic Anemia is a lifelong diagnosis, so Derek’s future is not for certain. According to Neil, though, one thing IS for certain: “Without blood donations, Aplastic Anemia patients and many others don't have a chance.”
And now that Derek is recovering, Neil is paying it forward by becoming a blood donor himself. “Derek's mother and I have begun to donate blood after our experience with our son,” he said. “I was a nervous wreck my first time. But couldn't forget that grateful feeling sitting next to my son as his life was repeatedly saved by transfusions. I wish I could reach out and hug every donor that contributed in saving my son's life!”