Fuelling the heart of a fighter

Blood trans­fu­sions helped give Ja­cob An­stey — and his fam­ily — the strength to re­cover from mul­ti­ple surg­eries

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - LOCAL - BY KENN OLIVER

Ja­cob An­stey is not unlike any other five-year-old boy.

He loves Halloween, rid­ing his bike — which he calls his mo­tor­cy­cle — on his street and all things “Star Wars,” es­pe­cially the galaxy’s vil­lains. Darth Vader, he says, is his favourite.

Were it not for Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices, lit­tle Ja­cob might not be able to be the pre­co­cious and energetic kid he is to­day.

“We’re all so busy just float­ing around in our day-to-day lives try­ing to get done what we need to get done that it’s so easy to let some­thing like blood do­na­tion go in one ear and out the other,” says his mother, Lisa An­stey.

“But you never know what day it’s go­ing to be your fam­ily that needs that blood. It was a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for us.”

When Lisa was 21 weeks preg­nant with Ja­cob, her and hus­band Jon’s sec­ond child fol­low­ing their daugh­ter Ge­or­gia, the un­born baby boy was di­ag­nosed with five con­gen­i­tal heart de­fects. It meant that he would be born with half a heart.

Late in her preg­nancy, Lisa had to en­dure three high-risk ul­tra­sounds ev­ery week, and af­ter each, doc­tors would tell her there was a very real pos­si­bil­ity her son could die be­fore the next ap­point­ment.

Thank­fully, Ja­cob proved to be re­silient. Af­ter his birth at Mount Si­nai Hos­pi­tal in Toronto, he was im­me­di­ately taken to the Hos­pi­tal for Sick Kids for the first of a three-stage surgery.

At just five days old, Ja­cob un­der­went an eight-hour pro­ce­dure on his then wal­nut-sized heart, one that came with a 20 per cent mor­tal­ity rate.

It was then that Ja­cob had his first blood trans­fu­sion, fol­lowed by two more dur­ing a re­cov­ery pe­riod that kept the lit­tle bun­dle of joy in hos­pi­tal for the first two months of his life.

Those trans­fu­sions, in par­tic­u­lar, had a marked ef­fect on the lit­tle boy within hours.

“Within a few hours you can see the colour come back in his cheeks, you can see him be­com­ing more alert,” says Lisa. “It’s in­cred­i­ble how quickly it helps. It’s not like he gets a blood trans­fu­sion and three days later you see a re­sult, it helps im­me­di­ately.”

In the years since, Ja­cob has un­der­gone an­other three open-heart surg­eries — the most re­cent just over a year ago — three pace­maker surg­eries, and four years of feed­ing-tube de­pen­dency to en­sure he was healthy enough to un­dergo the pro­ce­dures and bat­tery of tests.

“We’re very for­tu­nate with these op­er­a­tions,” says Jon. “They’ve gone about as good as they can go.”

Lisa adds, “Look­ing at him right now, and I’ve talked to his car­di­ol­o­gist at the Janeway and she agrees with me, there’s no rea­son why he won’t live to be an adult. He will need in­ter­ven­tions be­tween now and then, he may need a heart trans­plant be­fore then, but his odds of liv­ing to be my age or older are great.”

In to­tal, the An­steys es­ti­mate their son has un­der­gone at least 12 blood trans­fu­sions in his short life, and they’re eter­nally grate­ful to the Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices donors that have made them pos­si­ble,

“Thank you for be­ing a blood donor and help­ing to save my brother’s life,” nine-year-old Ge­or­gia told Tele­gram and Saltwire Net­works em­ploy­ees gath­ered for the launch of the ninth an­nual Tele­gram Saves Lives blood drive in sup­port of the Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices, run­ning from Oct. 13-19.

Dur­ing last year’s cam­paign, Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices had 242 donors — 48 of them first­timers — at­tend the Wick­low Street blood cen­tre in St. John’s, and about 210 units of blood were col­lected. Over the first eight years, the an­nual ini­tia­tive has helped col­lect more than 1,200 units of blood.

Gor­don Sk­iff­in­g­ton, com­mu­nity devel­op­ment co-or­di­na­tor at Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices, was on hand for blood drive launch and used the op­por­tu­nity to de­lin­eate some of the re­cent el­i­gi­bil­ity changes that are mak­ing it pos­si­ble for the or­ga­ni­za­tion to hit its need for 14,000 units of blood in this province ev­ery year.

“If some­body was told two years ago or five years ago that they could not give, they weren’t el­i­gi­ble for what­ever rea­son, we al­ways tell them that you should check back with the Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices pe­ri­od­i­cally be­cause of all the changes that are hap­pen­ing in emerg­ing re­search.”

Some of the new el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria in­clude:

• The up­per age limit has been elim­i­nated al­to­gether and donors be­tween the ages of 61 and 71 are no longer re­quired to ob­tain a phys­i­cal be­fore do­nat­ing.

• Pa­tients re­cov­er­ing from skin, prostate or colon can­cer, among some other types, are now el­i­gi­ble so long as they have been in re­mis­sion for five years or more.

• The de­fer­ral pe­riod for po­ten­tial donors who’ve had a pierc­ing or tat­too was re­duced from six months to three months.

• Po­ten­tial donors who have had jaun­dice are now el­i­gi­ble as long as they are six months or more re­moved from the con­di­tion

To find out more about new el­i­gi­bil­ity Sk­iff­in­g­ton urges po­ten­tial donors to check with Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices, down­load the Give Blood app, or visit blood.ca to take the el­i­gi­bil­ity quiz.


Five-year-old Ja­cob An­stey, nes­tled into his father Jon, has had more than 12 blood trans­fu­sions dur­ing and fol­low­ing surg­eries to re­pair con­gen­i­tal heart de­fects. The fam­ily, which in­cludes mother Lisa and big sis­ter Ge­or­gia, were on hand to tell Ja­cob’s story at the launch of the ninth an­nual Tele­gram Saves Lives blood drive ini­tia­tive in aid of Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices.


Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices com­mu­nity devel­op­ment co-or­di­na­tor Gor­don Sk­iff­in­g­ton says more peo­ple than ever be­fore are el­i­gi­ble to do­nate blood thanks to emerg­ing re­search in the field.

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