Thursday
Aug132015

« Abbi Beach: A Mother's Bittersweet Tears of Life Lost, But Lives Saved »

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

Time and grace and medical know-how all played major roles. But Michigan Blood also shares a special place in the transformation of Abigail Beach from a mother shedding tears of grief to one who now knows tears of joy.

“What do you say about an organization that essentially saved your life?” says Abbi, who likely would have died alongside her stillborn baby girl if it hadn’t been for nearly a dozen transfusions of blood and more than a half-dozen other blood products back in 2010.

That’s the year Abbi, 27, and her husband Lee, 37, endured a journey they never saw coming.

“I was having a completely normal pregnancy,” Abbi recalls. “No problems. I was healthy, and my little girl was healthy. But two weeks into the New Year, during her second trimester, Abbi began to bleed, and Lee rushed her to emergency at Bronson Healthcare in Kalamazoo.

Naturally, ultrasound was used in an effort to determine a heartbeat in the fetus that until then had presented no problems.

Abbi and Lee stared at the screen.

An image. But the tiny head and arms and legs at rest.

Their baby girl.

Finally, a trembling Abbi managed to ask, “Is she alive?”

And the technician, Abbi remembers, “just started crying.”

Abbi draws a ragged breath: “My husband and I just lost it at that point.” It was not only for the obvious reason, but to know that the woman with them in the too-quiet room already was grieving for their loss. “I was touched by her sense of humanity,” says Abbi, “the sense of devastation that she had for us.”

At 27 weeks, their daughter, Rae Leigh, weighing less than two pounds, was wrapped in a tiny cap and blanket, then presented to Abbi and Lee and their extended families so all could offer caresses and whisper their goodbyes.

In the aftermath, Abbi came to learn she suffered from a genetic blood disorder known as prothrombin gene mutation, characterized by the blood’s increased tendency to clot, which poses special risks for pregnant women.

Some seven months later, though, Abbi and Lee conceived again, and special steps were taken to safeguard against the disorder. In May of 2011, the couple gave birth to a healthy son, Cameron, delivered by C-section.

“When I heard his first little cry, it was the best feeling ever,” says Abbi. “Tears again, but tears of joy. I was a blubbering mess, my husband and I both.”

At the time of this article’s publication, the Beaches are expecting a third youngster into their farming family, due in August 2015.

Through both heartache and happiness, Abbi has stopped often to consider men and women – strangers all to her -- who stepped forward to donate blood and blood products that allowed her a second and third chance to become a mother, and continue on as loving wife to Lee.

It’s not Abbi’s first blush with blood donors; that occurred years earlier when she worked at a housing community that regularly sponsored blood drives.

“All these wonderful people, donating their blood,” she recalls fondly.

But those whose gifts were destined specifically for her has affected Abbi in a very visceral way: “Honestly, I don’t know what compels someone to go and donate their blood and their time to save people like me,” she wonders.

Abbi says that if she were somehow able to connect with them, “I’d probably just hug them and start crying. It’s so humbling to know there are more than a dozen people out there who saved my life.”

On a wall inside the Beach home, a picture of little Rae Leigh hangs beside snapshots of Cameron, along with a small bronze heart containing Rae Leigh’s ashes.

Soon, pictures of their third-born will join them. And Abbi Beach will be forever grateful for the part Michigan Blood played in helping to sustain and grow their family tree.

“What can I say,” Abbi offers, searching for words,” except ‘thank-you!’”