Fuelling the heart of a fighter
Blood transfusions helped give Jacob Anstey — and his family — the strength to recover from multiple surgeries
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.