“Giving blood matters. I am living proof of that.”
Alyssa Gattermeyer can’t imagine not being around to raise her two boys, Theo and Henry, or be with her husband Todd—the mere thought is “just incomprehensible to me,” she says.
But in 2017, that scenario became a very real and terrifying possibility to the Miami University graduate and current resident of Ross.
The only reason she is here to share her story? The time and commitment of volunteer blood donors—and every day, “I am eternally grateful that I have the chance to grow old and experience life with my husband, and to watch our sons as they grow and change each day.”
During Alyssa’s first pregnancy with her son Theo, doctors found a few different concerns on her ultrasounds—among them, “an echogenic focus, a blockage in one of his kidneys, and eventually elevated fluid levels. All of these things led to weekly ultrasounds and non-stress tests,” she explains. “During one of those ultrasounds, they found something on Theo that they weren't quite sure of, so they sent me for an MRI. At this point I was about 40 weeks pregnant.”
Throughout her pregnancy, Alyssa was being seen at the UC Health campus in West Chester, and had planned to give birth there. “But after the MRI, they still weren't 100% sure what they were seeing on Theo, and so Dr. Kappa decided that I should be induced, and gave me the choice between delivering at West Chester or Cincinnati,” she says. “I was conflicted and asked him what he would do if it were his wife--and he said he would have her deliver in Cincinnati, because Children's Hospital was right there. It was decided that I would be induced that night, Thursday, June 15th.”
After a long, slow induction, Theo was finally born healthy on June 17th, at 3:19 in the morning to everyone’s great joy and relief.
“My husband announced that we had a son, as we didn't know the gender prior to birth; all the wonderful pediatric doctors and nurses checked him out, and he was placed in my arms,” Alyssa recalls.
That shining moment of joy was short-lived, however—as she cradled her firstborn in her arms, Alyssa was overcome with the feeling that something was wrong. “Within a minute or two, I began feeling very sick and I asked my mom, who was also in the room, to take the baby,” she remembers. “Dr. Masters, the wonderful attending who was on call that night, rushed me out of the room. On my way out, I told my husband that I would be right back, and to please do skin to skin with our son.”
Alyssa did not come right back. In fact, she had just started the battle of her life. An artery in the back of her cervix had ruptured, and she was hemorrhaging blood. The memories that follow, she says, still stay with her.
“The next hours of my life are a bit of a blur, but here is what I do remember: I remember being wheeled very quickly into an OR, the lights were bright and I felt terrible. I remember getting sick and them having to suction out my mouth. In the beginning, they would tell me each thing that they were doing, like placing the large, painful IVs into my arms. But then I could begin to hear the panic in their voices, and heard scary words like ‘tachycardia.’”
Alyssa felt the fear setting in. “I started crying and begging them to not let me die; the amazing nurses prayed with me and comforted me. I just remember thinking that I didn't want to leave my husband and my newborn son, who I had only met for a moment or two.”
The skilled doctors and nurses soon found the culprit—the torn artery in her cervix. But as they worked to repair the damage, Alyssa was losing precious blood at an alarming rate. “Every time they would try to repair, my cervix would shred more,” she says. “I lost almost my entire blood volume, and received two total transfusions while in the OR. I have no idea how long it took them to get the bleeding under control, but I was eventually taken to the SICU where I continued to receive blood products. I had a follow up surgery the next day in order to repair my cervix.”
Alyssa knows that had she not decided to deliver at the UCMC campus in Clifton, she would not have survived. “Dr. Kappa saved my life by encouraging me to deliver downtown, and Dr. Masters (whose quick work also saved my life) said that had I delivered at any other hospital, I would have died,” she recalls. “The fact that the Hoxworth Center was connected to the hospital is the only reason I am here right now. No other area hospital would have had enough blood and blood products to save my life.”
Today, Alyssa has fully recovered from her near brush with death, and Theo is a happy, healthy toddler with blonde curls and blue eyes. “Today I am feeling great,” she exclaims. “I was in the hospital for a week total and all told, it took about a year for my body to fully heal. Theo is one of the lights of my life. He is hilarious and we call him our hambone. He's so smart, sweet, and loving. On August 7th of 2019, I gave birth (via c-section) to our second son, Henry. I was quite honestly terrified to give birth, but I had another incredible doctor (Dr. Boldt) who took great care of me my entire pregnancy. Of course, giving birth with the Hoxworth Center right next door eased a lot of worry, as I knew that I would be able to receive transfusions again if they became necessary.”
While Alyssa is healthy now and enjoys baking, going to breweries with her husband, and soaking up the love of her two little boys as a stay at home mom, she will never forget the impact that blood donations had on her life. Indeed, she is certain that the only reason she is alive today is because of local blood donors--and for her, it’s hard to describe the kind of gratitude she feels towards them.
“I'm not sure that there are enough words in the English language to properly convey how much I love, cherish, and respect the donors who saved my life. I am grateful to them, and owe them my life,” Alyssa says. “I would like to tell them thank you--thank you for saving my life. Thank you for giving me the ability to watch my children discover the world around them. Thank you for the date nights I get to have with my husband. Thank you for the memories I get to make, trips I get to take, and for the laughter and love I get to experience every single day.”
“I want these donors to know that I will never forget them, and that they matter,” she adds. “Giving blood matters. I am living proof of that. I so wish I could meet my donors and give them a hug. But I will settle for raising awareness for the need of blood donation.”
As a way of giving back and raising awareness, Alyssa and her family have begun hosting an annual blood drive with Hoxworth Blood Center: “I have hosted the Gattermeyer Giveback Blood Drive for the past two years. We hold it in June, as close to the 17th as our schedules allow, in honor of Theo's birth and in honor of those whose blood saved my life. We will continue to host a blood drive each year, and I am always astounded by the amount of people who come out to support us. Many of our friends and family had never donated before, and they continue to donate blood regularly now.”
For Alyssa, it’s important that people know that the need for blood is real and ever-present—and that by donating, they are truly saving the lives of patients right here at home, the life of someone like her, or possibly even someone they know.
“I tell people that you never think it's going to happen to you or someone you love, until it does. I was 29 years old and in good health when I gave birth and a freak tear almost killed me,” she says. “Blood donation only takes about an hour of your time, but in that hour you are saving someone's spouse, parent, child, or friend.”
“When you give blood, you are quite literally saving someone's life, and I truly feel that there is no greater gift,” she finishes. “To those who are afraid, I simply say this: Please don't let fear prevent you from doing something great for our community. While it may not be you or your family member who needs a transfusion or lifesaving blood products, someone in our city will, and soon. Please give them the gift of life. It is something you will never regret, and something they will never forget.”