New mother brings hope to patients after her own health emergency

Shami Rispoli plans annual birthday fundraisers for Canadian Blood Services, to honour blood donors who helped her

Inspiration
June 19, 2021
A young woman in a wide-brimmed hat smiles broadly as she holds her baby son.

Like many of those who support Canada’s Lifeline, Shami Rispoli’s passion for helping patients was ignited by her own experience ― one she never expected to have as a young and healthy new mother.

On Oct. 8, 2020, Shami, who lives in Hamilton, Ont., gave birth to her son, Matthew, by caesarean section. Despite the pandemic and the exhaustion of caring for a newborn, she describes those early days with her husband and son as blissful. But, as time wore on, she began to worry about persistent pain in her stomach.

Unsure whether this could be a normal post-partum symptom related to her C-section or breastfeeding, Shami found herself quizzing the other moms in her life. They quickly sought to reassure her.

“I would get answers like ‘Your body’s just shrinking back to itself. Just be a bit patient and it should go away,’” she recalls.

When she woke up on Nov. 1, however, Shami knew something was wrong. Over the previous few days, the pain had become so severe that she’d called on family members to come help with the baby. That November morning she was so dizzy she could barely stand.

Her husband called 911, and Shami was rushed to the hospital. COVID restrictions meant she had to go alone, and she was scared.

“I was genuinely preparing myself for never seeing my family again,” recalls Shami.

Fortunately, doctors quickly diagnosed the problem. She had developed stomach ulcers as a reaction to the painkiller that had been prescribed following her C-section. Such ulcers are a potentially dangerous side effect of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In Shami’s case, they had caused her to lose a large amount of blood.

To get through the crisis, she needed multiple transfusions. And she is so thankful to the donors who made those transfusions possible.

“I left the hospital breathing in the freshest air, being so grateful for Canadian Blood Services,” Shami recalls. “I’ve never felt such strong emotion for an organization ever in my life.”

Birthday celebration honours “heroes”

Shami didn’t wait long to honour those lifesaving donors. Just a couple of months later, as her 32nd birthday approached in January, she put the word out to friends and family that she didn’t want gifts — at least, not for herself. She directed them instead to an online fundraiser for Canadian Blood Services.

“It was really important for me to make sure I was acknowledging my heroes for my birthday,” she says.

Organizing online fundraisers for Canadian Blood Services is simple. Just choose the type of fundraiser you would like to host, select “join as a new participant” and set a fundraising goal. You can then easily customize your page and share the link with others by email or social media to start collecting funds.

Shami had hoped to raise $500 through her fundraising page, but she ultimately exceeded $1300 after her husband shared the link on social media. People with whom he had not connected in years read Shami’s account of her experience and were inspired to donate. Each time they did, Shami got alerts by email that moved her to tears.

“Every time I heard that ‘bing!’ on my phone, it was amazing,” she recalls.

How fundraisers for Canadian Blood Services help patients

Financial donations to Canadian Blood Services support patients in a number of ways. They help us recruit more donors of diverse backgrounds to the Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry. They help drive world-class research in transfusion and transplantation medicine, and they help strengthen interprovincial organ-sharing programs. And of course they also help us invest in innovative new ways to enhance the blood donor experience and recruit new donors, the cause closest to Shami’s heart.

“Knowing that it brings more blood donors in to help people who are in the position I was in, or an even worse position, that’s what makes me emotional,” she says. Her fundraising page also motivated some people to become first-time blood donors.

“That meant a lot to me,” she adds.

Now, seven months after that frightening trip to the hospital, Shami has a lot to celebrate. Her ulcers have fully healed, and her son is a happy, healthy 8-month-old. And she plans to keep the celebration going for many years to come, in a way that both honours the gifts she received and helps future patients in need.

“I’ve actually decided that every birthday will be a fundraiser for Canadian Blood Services specifically,” Shami says. “I’m so grateful.”

This National Blood Donor Week we celebrate the vital role of all donors who help us support patients. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for your many contributions. We hope you will continue to support Canada’s Lifeline and spread the word about all ways to donate. You could be somebody’s hero today.

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