Angel Griffith started donating blood as a teenager because she was interested in pursuing a career in the medical field. She had no idea her son would one day need others to follow her lead in order to stay alive.
by Michelle Floyd
Angel Griffith has donated blood since she was 16 years old, not knowing that one day her son would be a beneficiary of the selfless, life-saving act.
“I started giving blood as teenager because I wanted to be in the medical field,” Griffith said. “It just made sense to give blood. If I can give blood to save somebody else, it’s definitely worth it.”
In November 2018, her 5-year-old son Kendell was diagnosed with leukemia. Months before the diagnosis, he began experiencing excruciating leg pains that had him crying in the middle of the night. Griffith’s motherly instincts kicked in, as she knew something was amiss. After several visits to various emergency rooms and doctors yielded no answers and with the pains in his legs becoming so intense that Kendell was having difficulty walking, Angel and her sister decided to take him to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
“I told my sister, ‘I know my child. This has gone on for two months. Something is wrong with him,’” Griffith said.
“It’s important. If it wasn’t for people like us giving blood, my son wouldn’t be here today. We give so he can live and so others can, too.”Angel Griffith
After several examinations and tests, doctors finally provided the Griffith family with some answers. It was not the revelation for which everyone had hoped, but they finally had a direction in which to turn.
“That night, they pulled us out of the room and told us that he had leukemia. They couldn’t tell me all of the details, but he had it,” Griffith said. “He was admitted to the hospital and began treatment immediately and aggressively.”
A second grader at Stark Elementary School in Jackson, Kendell underwent a blood transfusion within the first week, then started chemotherapy treatments, lumbar punctures and further testing. Griffith, who attends Eastridge Community Church in Covington, leaned on her faith.
“It was too much to take on,” she said. “I just worshipped and cried and prayed and knew that God was going to work it out.”
Although Kendell enjoyed his stay at times—he remembers using a hoverboard to roll around the halls—the initial diagnosis was difficult for the family, which spent countless nights dealing with fevers and the fallout from hundreds of blood transfusions. Even though he continues treatment, his situation has improved. For the past year, Kendell has benefitted from a blood infusion that filters antibodies from donors. He even beat back COVID-19 at the end of 2020. Kendell helps put a face on the importance of blood donation.
“Approximately every two seconds, a patient in the United States needs a blood transfusion,” American Red Cross spokesperson Ronnika McFall said. “On average, the Red Cross must collect more than 2,600 platelet and nearly 13,000 blood donations every day for patients at about 2,500 hospitals and transfusion centers nationwide. Here in Georgia, we need to collect approximately 568 blood donations each and every day to meet the needs of patients.”
According to McFall, blood and platelets are needed for a variety of reasons: accident and burn victims, patients who have undergone heart surgery or organ transplant and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease.
“Platelets play a critical role in the treatment of millions of Americans fighting cancer and other chronic diseases, as well as those recovering from traumatic injuries,” she said. “Since platelets must be used within five days of donation, platelet donors are constantly needed.”
Although the situation appears to have taken a positive turn for the Griffiths, Angel and her husband continue to donate blood as often as they are allowed to do so.
“We go every three months—as much as we can go,” she said. “It’s important. If it wasn’t for people like us giving blood, my son wouldn’t be here today. We give so he can live and so others can, too.”
Kendell’s experience has opened his mother’s eyes to a cold reality.
“I need other people to help me keep my son alive,” she said. “You never think about those things until it’s a life-or-death situation. It changes things when the blood donations become personal. Nobody thinks this will happen to them; and here it is, this is happening. I’m so thankful to people who selflessly give. They don’t even realize the impact it has on everybody’s life. Their blood is what helps keep my baby alive.”
The family hopes to organize a blood drive in Kendell’s honor someday soon in an attempt to raise awareness. Information regarding blood donation can be found on the Red Cross website and the Red Cross app, which also allow interested parties to complete some of the paperwork ahead of time to speed up the process. All blood types are needed.
“It doesn’t really take that long,” Griffith said. “If you eat a good lunch or breakfast and keep yourself hydrated, you can be done in about 30 minutes.”
For more information, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-733-2767.