The Gift of Life

Selfless donations sustain life, friendly spirit of competition

Aaron Hawley, son of Amarillo Police Sgt. Kyle Hawley, benefited from blood and platelet transfusions over the years as he battled leukemia.

Terry Coffee spent 28 extra days with youngest son Blaze Coffee in 2009. Amarillo police Sgt. Kyle Hawley saw the difference with son Aaron Hawley in his long but successful battle with leukemia. For Lt. Josh Whitney of Amarillo Fire Department, his daughter Mia Whitney wouldn’t have lived from heart surgery otherwise.

Often taken for granted, blood transfusions are anonymous donations that save lives.

“It took Blaze’s accident even for me and (wife) Rhonda to understand just how much we need blood,” said Coffee, director of EMS services for the city of Panhandle.

All three men will play a role — and for them a personal role — in Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. benefit softball game at Amarillo National Bank Sox Stadium. In alliteration, it’s Boots vs. Badges, a game between the city’s police and fire departments.

In the end, it’s to benefit the Coffee Memorial Blood Center. It’s also the climax of a two-month blood drive competition between police and firefighters that’s in its fifth year. This is the fourth year for the game.

Whitney, son Kaleb and Mia will fly in the LifeStar helicopter to Sox Stadium. Kaleb will throw out the honorary first pitch.

Coffee will be on the same flight to catch the first pitch.

Hawley, also APD’s chaplain, will offer the opening prayer with son Aaron, the bat boy for the Badges.

“I gave this analogy to my nephew,” said Whitney, a firefighter for 10 years. “It’s like oil in your car. If there’s no oil, you’re going to die and die pretty fast.

“Blood is like oxygen. They’re needed to sustain life. If a patient needs blood, where’s that going to come from?”

Mia Whitney was born with a congenital heart defect in 2007. She underwent surgery in January 2008. She started kindergarten this year, as healthy as a child can be, her dad said.

“She would have never made it — no way her body would have pulled through that without someone else’s blood,” Whitney said. “I know that for a fact, no way.”

Aaron Hawley, 13, was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 4. He had treatments for 3½ years with as many as 14 blood and platelet transfusions.

“Seeing my son so pale and the benefit I saw with him just receiving a pint hits home what a simple donation can do,” Hawley said. “I couldn’t believe how much difference it made in making him better.”

The Coffee Blood Center serves 31 medical facilities in 29 counties. The center’s needs require 125 units of blood a day, 600 a week and 2,400 a month, marketing director Suzanne Talley said.

Blood doesn’t spring from an aquifer, but from Jane and John Doe’s veins. It’s a simple procedure to donate, lasting about 20 minutes. The only caveat is a quick needle stick.

After that, donors get to recline in a chair, and get a parting soft drink and cheese crackers for their time. Unlike many other donations, blood is replenished in 56 days.

“We can donate clothes to Goodwill, and donate time to churches, but one thing we know can make a difference in someone’s life is donating blood,” said Terry Coffee, who said he is related to the Robert Coffee for whom the blood center is named.

Coffee’s job has him often seeing the injured and stricken, almost all needing blood. Parental instinct overtook the paramedic in August 2009 when his son, Blaze, two days after turning 20, was injured at the Panhandle recycling center.

“The most horrible injuries you can have. They were terrible,” Coffee said. “I don’t know how much blood they used the first night, but something was hanging every 28 days, more than I can count.”

Blaze died that September, but it was an extra month the Coffees cherished. As honorary ambassador family for Coffee Memorial this year, Coffee will speak for many before Saturday’s game.

“This means everything in the world to me,” he said. “Seeing those people, they are all potential donors. If we can just get them hooked, research shows they are likely to donate many times.”

Without that selfless act, critical care becomes more critical.

“If that’s the only gift you can give, that’s giving someone a chance at life,” Whitney said. “I know.”

Source: Jon Mark Beilue is a Globe-News columnist. He can be reached at jon.beilue@amarillo .com or 806-345-3318. His blog appears on Follow him on Twitter: @jonmarkbeilue.