« Cindy Hammond »

by Tom Rademacher, Veteran Grand Rapids Press columnist and long-time Michigan Blood donor

She doesn’t know who.

She’s not even certain of the whys.

But Cindy Hammond knows this: She’s grateful beyond words. Because perfect strangers are keeping her alive.

They aren’t armed with weapons and they don’t guard her home or huddle close as bodyguards. But they step up every couple months or so with a lifesaving elixir whose benefits allow this 50-year-old woman from Hastings to continue serving as a wife, mother, businesswoman and friend.

They’re blood donors.

“I really don’t know where the blood I’m receiving is coming from,” she says. “I was just getting it. But I was overcome with this need to thank somebody, and you just don’t know how to.”

Cindy’s situation is not unlike others who receive blood transfusions. Except in rare instances, privacy laws prevent donors and recipients from establishing the other’s identity.

But Cindy’s craving to reach out with gratitude reflects the feelings of many of the men, women and children who receive blood. And in all honesty, Michigan Blood is proud to serve as a communications conduit, so that from time to time, a person like Cindy can step up and share one simple word that carries with it so much weight: “Thanks.”

In Cindy’s case, she went from not knowing how to express her feelings, to discovering that the spouse of a friend’s son works at Michigan Blood, and helped arrange this story.

“She gave me the opportunity to have a voice,” says Cindy. “And I’m so glad for it, because I imagine it’s a pain sometimes for people to take time out of their day to give blood. And they really never get a thank-you. And so here I am, thanking you. And even if I’m not receiving your blood, I think I speak for so many others, and one of those others is getting your blood.”

Adds Cindy’s mother, Sandy Hammond, who sometimes drives her daughter to medical appointments, “I think it’s fantastic that there is a place like Michigan Blood in place for all of us. But it’s not a place you’d normally think about—not until you have a need.”

Cindy herself has not been able to donate, due to low iron readings and the effects certain medications have had on her.

But she’s no stranger to being on the receiving end, ever since the discovery of a kidney disorder earlier this year.

Her first symptoms actually surfaced in April of 2013. She was inordinately tired, but initially shrugged it off. When her urine began darkening, she chalked it up to the iced tea she drank daily.

After eight months, she faced facts, and indeed learned that she was losing blood.

She’s been receiving transfusions every two to four weeks since her diagnosis, and she’s hopeful her condition will improve to the point that by the end of this year, she’ll require no more.

“I did have a breakthrough a couple of weeks where I stayed stable, and that’s a sign my kidneys are getting better,” she says.

A long-time resident of West Michigan, Cindy graduated from East Kentwood High School in 1982. She tried her hand at college on two occasions, and then learned everything “the hard way” regarding finance, business and human relations.

Today, she and husband Todd and son Vince work a family business near their Barry County home.

Some days are tougher than others for Cindy; usually tied to how anemic she’s feeling, and how many days pass between transfusions. Twice a week, she drives in from Hastings to Grand Rapids, where she has blood work performed.

“I used to be this person who was always on the go, maybe got four hours of sleep. Now that I’m sick and can’t do a lot, I’m laying down and sitting a lot more.”

She’s eager to be well and invest more energy into the family enterprise. And she also hopes to write a memoir that would star their son Vince, 16. “I want to write about him some day, but without making him this hero. But his whole life, he’s always impressed me as this overachiever, and I respect that so much.”

That book may be on a back burner. But Cindy’s shorter message – and one that’s just as profound and also originates in her heart – has already been delivered.

To everyone who has ever donated or even tried to donate blood, consider yourself thanked by one very grateful woman.