In Michael’s memory | Patient inspires Tidelands Health phlebotomist to become blood, platelet donor
Phlebotomist Paige Vick always looked forward to seeing Michael Keohane come in for his regular platelet checks.
Keohane, a Boston native, would banter with Vick about her Tennessee accent, ask about her family back in the Volunteer State (even though he’d never met them) and keep her laughing and upbeat – despite the challenges he was facing living with leukemia.
“We just clicked from the start,” said Vick, a phlebotomist at Tidelands Health. “It was that connection we made. He was more than just my patient. He became my friend. The highlight of my week was getting to see Michael. We just made fun whenever we could. He was one of a kind, for sure.”
Relying on blood donations
While Keohane bravely battled leukemia for two years, regular blood and platelet transfusions were his lifeline – literally. Every week, and sometimes more often, he came to Tidelands Health Cancer Care Network in Murrells Inlet to have his platelet levels checked to determine if a blood or platelet transfusion was needed. Leukemia often interferes with the normal production of red cells, white cells and platelets in bone marrow, so it’s common for leukemia patients to need transfusions.
“They kept my brother alive,” said CarolAnn Keohane.
Vick could tell a difference in Keohane after he’d receive a blood transfusion, as he’d have more energy.
“He told me, ‘It just gets so tiring depending on other people’s blood to keep me alive, but I’m grateful for it because that is what keeps me going,’ ” Vick recalled.
In December, Keohane, 60, passed away after his hard-fought leukemia battle. Vick got the news on a day she had been eagerly awaiting him to arrive for one of his regular checks.
“That one hit hard for sure,” she said. “He fought for so long. He’s finally at peace now.”
As she mourned, Vick couldn’t help but recall Keohane’s words expressing gratitude for the blood transfusions, which wouldn’t be possible without blood donors. She had never donated blood but wanted to do it to honor him.
Giving a gift
Though a bit hesitant, she found comfort – and more inspiration – through her fellow phlebotomist at Tidelands Health, Brandy Reisdorff.
Reisdorff became a blood donor to honor her sister, Tracy Harnly, who passed away from breast cancer in 2011. Harnly also had benefited from blood transfusions.
“She fought hard for six years,” Reisdorff said. “Because of blood donors, she at least had a good quality of life. It helped put more life in what little time she had left.”
Now, the Reisdorff family donates around the Christmas holiday and Harnly’s birthday, May 20.
“I can’t physically give her a birthday present or a Christmas present, so that’s how I celebrate her,” Reisdorff said on what would have been her sister’s 48th birthday, wearing a button with her sister’s photo.
“I’m just glad that somebody else will have a chance at life or at least quality – quantity or quality – either one,” Reisdorff said. “When it’s your family or your loved one, you can see what a blessing it is.”
‘It’s all for Michael’
Reisdorff’s experience donating blood for more than a decade helped reassure Vick. Then Vick saw Keohane’s obituary encouraging blood donations. To her, that was a sign that sealed her decision.
She gave blood for the first time in April at a blood drive in Garden City Beach.
“I feel pretty honored that she has done this and has taken this on,” CarolAnn Keohane said, adding that she remembers her brother talking fondly about his phlebotomist and friend.
Vick plans to regularly donate. After donating blood in April, she learned that her blood also is ideal for platelet donations, which is a more intense process, but she plans on registering for that soon, too.
“It’s all for Michael,” Vick said. “Now my blood is going to help keep somebody alive, no matter if it’s for a day or 100 days, it’s going to help somebody.
“And being that was Michael’s last wish, I’m for sure going to carry it on.”