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Cooperative Program effort resonates with mom who needed blood transfusions

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–As a healthy, athletic young mother in her mid-20s, Tonya Smith never thought she would need a blood transfusion.

But 12 weeks into her pregnancy with her second child, Tonya was diagnosed with placenta previa, a potentially fatal pregnancy condition, which results in massive, blood loss.

Without willing blood donors, neither Tonya nor her daughter, Ansley, would have survived.

That’s why Tonya, a member at West Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., is excited that Kentucky Baptists are including a statewide blood drive as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the Cooperative Program, the financial channel through which churches support Baptist mission and ministry initiatives across the state and throughout the world.

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Being billed as “Operation Cooperation,” Kentucky Baptists will celebrate the Cooperative Program’s birthday by giving the gift of life through more than 25 blood drives across the state Sept. 10-23.

Tonya’s story is dramatic. Despite the initial diagnosis, she didn’t realize its severity until about three months later when she awoke to find herself lying in a pool of her own blood. She had lost so much blood that her bedroom looked like a “murder scene,” she said.

“I was always the picture of health,” Tonya said. “It was humbling to realize how fragile life is. My world just came crashing down around me.”

She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors found that she was already in labor. The labor was halted and Tonya was stabilized and sent home the next day. Just moments after she arrived home, she began bleeding profusely again and had to be rushed back to the hospital.

Over the course of the next several weeks, Tonya was taken to the hospital four more times and Tonya’s mother provided a transfusion. Doctors were cautious about giving Tonya blood from a less closely matched donor for fear Tonya or the baby would reject the blood and more complications would follow.

On Aug. 27, 1997 — three months before the baby was due — Tonya was taken to Baptist Hospital East in the eastern suburbs of Louisville. Doctors decided to transfer Tonya to Norton Hospital, which is located in downtown Louisville and connected to Kosair Children’s Hospital. If circumstances took a turn for the worse when Tonya delivered the baby, specialists at Kosair would be close at hand.

As Tonya was prepared for transfer, circumstances did take a rapid and unexpected turn for the worse. She suddenly lost two liters of blood in just three seconds. Transferring Tonya became too risky a proposition, and the doctors were forced to perform an emergency Cesarean section.

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Ansley Martin Smith, just two pounds and one quarter of an ounce, was rushed from an operating room at Baptist Hospital East to a waiting ambulance and taken to Kosair Children’s Hospital across town. Tonya begged her aunt, Pat Beverly, to follow Ansley to Kosair and pray for her.

Because no one was at all certain that Ansley would survive, Tonya was released as quickly as possible from Baptist Hospital East so that she might have the opportunity to see her daughter alive.

“As I pulled this little bundle of person to me, I said ‘OK, God, she’s yours if you want to take her, but if you want to leave her, I’ll go through whatever I have to do,'” Tonya recounted.

Little Ansley needed weekly transfusions and packed platelets from the hospital’s neo-natal blood bank for the first two months of her life. Because of the typically delicate condition of the recipients, the neo-natal bank uses specially screened donors to serve its tiny, fragile patients.

Ansley was so tiny that a man’s wedding band could easily slide all the way up her arm to her shoulder. Because she was so tiny, the blood had to be administered through a tiny tube in her forehead.

Ansley remained in the hospital for the first 109 days of her life. After her release, she required extensive therapy to help mitigate the effects of reflux, chronic lung disease and a mild case of cerebral palsy.

Although she still requires physical therapy and an occasional breathing treatment, Ansley is basically a healthy 2-year-old who enjoys playing with her 3-year-old brother Bryan.

To look at her today, you would never know how sick Ansley was, Tonya said. Ansley’s survival and her own recovery would not have been possible without willing blood donors, and Tonya is sharing their story in hope that others will donate blood.

“I urge anyone that is able to roll up that sleeve, stick out that arm and donate some blood!” she said with her characteristic enthusiasm. “Your gift is invaluable to those on the receiving end.”

Robert Reeves, communications director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said Operation Cooperation is a natural for Baptists as part of the Cooperative Program celebration.

“The Cooperative Program is the lifeblood of Kentucky Baptist missions,” he said. “What better way is there for Kentucky Baptists to celebrate than by giving blood to help their neighbors?”

To find out more about Operation Cooperation, call (502) 254-4731 or visit the Kentucky Baptist Convention website at http://www.kybaptist.org/operationcooperation.htm.