On the wrong side of the hospital room – a nurse becomes the patient

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

Kristin Palocko  had been engaged for a year and was looking forward to her first wedding dress fitting in 2017. Working the night shift as a critical care nurse, she was often tired, but suddenly she was more fatigued than normal.

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“That night, a doctor came into my room at the emergency department and told me that I have a bleeding disorder called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP),” recalled Kristin.

With TTP, blood clots form in small blood vessels throughout the body. The clots can limit or prevent the oxygen-rich blood from reaching the various organs that need it.

The condition is extremely rare, affecting maybe only two people in a million. “We barely touched on it in nursing school…it’s that rare. Luckily, with so many great hospitals in our area, it’s no longer fatal.”

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Prior to the 1980s, the disease was 97 percent fatal. Now with early detection and with plasma exchange, it’s considered very treatable. Treatment can last days or even months.

“This started me on a roller coaster of a 12-day hospital stay, a central dialysis line in my neck, and multiple units of red blood cells and plasma.” Kristin received 330 units of plasma, taking four hours each for 10 of those 12 days.

“It was an eye-opening experience being on the receiving end of treatment and being on the other side of the monitors. As a nurse, I realize the value of each unit of blood. It’s like liquid gold for our patients.”

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With three months medical leave, routine doctor’s appointments, countless blood draws and continual prayers, Kristin’s condition is still stable today. TTP could come back at any time, but some people have gone 17 years without a relapse.

“Less than six months after diagnosis, I married my best friend, Brad. Ever since I’ve been diagnosed, he’s been a frequent blood donor.”

“Two years later, I am feeling blessed for everyone’s thoughts and prayers through it all—especially the blood donors. They have helped me, and numerous others, in our time of greatest need with their generous donations. Without those willing to give of their time (and blood) there would not be treatment for TTP.”

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Kristin goes to Cuyahoga Valley Church and recently saw the sign there that volunteers were needed for an upcoming American Red Cross blood drive.

“After all that plasma I used during my treatment, I felt guilty, and I realized I needed to do something to give back. So, between shifts I went to the church during the blood drive and I volunteered.”

If you’d like to volunteer at a blood drive, we would love to have you. Volunteers are invaluable to the daily operation of the Northeast Ohio Region of the American Red Cross and are truly the heart and soul of the organization. Click here to register as a volunteer or sign up here to become a donor.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

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