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Valencia woman meets blood donors who saved her life

Posted: February 15, 2014 10:13 p.m.
Updated: February 15, 2014 10:13 p.m.

Jennifer Calderon, center, is surrounded by her blood donors (from left) Wendy Lohman, Emily Laing, Mary Chuhinko, Richard McAndrews, Linda Hashi, Megan Cory and Ricardo Barboza.

Valencia resident Jennifer Calderon was in the process of giving life when she came face-to-face with death.

In April she was rushed to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center about to give birth to her son, Henry.

Calderon suffered uterine hemorrhaging and began losing blood at a rapid rate.

For Jennifer, the memories of the ordeal are hazy, grasped through the drain of blood loss and the fog of an epidural.

“I knew it wasn’t good and my husband looked very concerned,” Calderon recalled during a recent interview. “But my main concern was Henry, and if he was OK.”

But it was Calderon who was in bad shape. She lost five liters of blood, almost her entire supply.

Mother and son would spend Henry’s birthday in intensive care.

“I wasn’t able to see Henry until 48 hours after he was born,” she said. “They wheeled me over and we saw each other laying horizontal the first time.”

Henry was eventually allowed to go home, where he has since continued to get stronger.

While Henry recovered, so too did Calderon.

She needed a series of blood transfusions, necessary to replace what she lost.

In most cases, that would be the end of the story, as typically blood donors never learn who receives their donations.

But with the help of those at the UCLA Blood and Platelet Center, Calderon got the opportunity to meet some of the people who donated the blood and blood materials she needed to survive.

“It was all so overwhelming, to be honest,” she said of the experience. “How do you say thank you for letting me live?”

The donors
For Richard McAndrews, a resident of Pacific Palisades, the donations began in earnest after a friend’s son was diagnosed with leukemia.

“When I found out about donating platelets, I just felt like it’s such an easy thing to do and so impactful to those in need,” McAndrews said.

So he started donating regularly at UCLA.

“It just kind of instilled this wonderful feeling and satisfaction and just a personal pleasure that I could help somebody like this,” he said.

Donating also has a personal meaning for another Southern California resident, Mary Chuhinko.

She started donating around seven years ago, when her aunt needed an emergency blood transfusion after suffering an ectopic pregnancy that burst while she was on a cruise.

“I never liked getting blood tests or anything like that; I just thought it was scary,” Chuhinko said. “But after that happened to my aunt I realized how important it was.”

So Chuhinko began donating regularly, knowing her blood could one day help someone like her aunt was helped.

Chuhinko and McAndrews were among those who met with Calderon last month at UCLA.

“You know your blood goes to help somebody, but it’s something else to actually meet the person face to face and see it works and helps,” Chuhinko said.

Both McAndrews and Chuhinko said they hope Calderon’s story inspires more people to donate blood and blood materials.

Today, Calderon works as a partner at a law firm in Los Angeles.

She’s also kept busy being a mother to Henry, as well as her other son, Charlie. She shares those parenting duties with her husband, Dustin Schmuldt.

And she knows the reason she’s here is because of the kindness of a group of people who were until recently complete strangers.

“It’s kind of a strange thing to think about, because I know the blood that courses through my veins today is not the same I was born with,” Calderon said.

“It’s so wonderful that so many types of people from different backgrounds, different ages can come together for the one goal of sustaining the human species.”


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