The cancer patient who inspired a movement: give blood

March 03, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Blood has life-giving power.

An Edward Hospital cancer patient who learned this first-hand hopes her journey will inspire others to give of themselves.

In 2012, Kim Sandford of Naperville was diagnosed with appendix cancer and a Krukenberg tumor, a rare metastatic tumor in her ovary.

She had HIPEC surgery that same year and healed in time to escort her son to his first day of kindergarten.

But her cancer returned. In November 2017, Sandford had surgery for thyroid cancer.

In May 2018, Sandford learned the cells from her appendix cancer had spread to her bones, causing new tumors. After more than a year of aggressive treatment did not eradicate the cancer, doctors said there was nothing more they could do. Sandford, 49, moved into hospice care. She passed away on March 3, 2020.

During her time in treatment at Edward, Sandford touched the lives of everyone around her, including her doctors and nurses.

The vital importance of donating blood hit home for Sandford after a hospital stay in January.

“I had to have a procedure to stop internal bleeding,” she said. “When I woke up in the recovery room, I was alone for the first time. I had a moment to reflect, and it just hit me that if people I have never even met had not gone and donated blood, that surgery would not have even been an option for me.”

Every two seconds, someone needs blood

Blood donors help patients of all ages: accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those battling cancer. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood, according to the American Red Cross.

One person’s donation could save three lives in the hospital. Three teaspoons of blood could save a baby’s life.

Cancer patients receive blood transfusions for many reasons, and use more blood than those fighting any other disease.

Earlier this year, Kim came to Edward severely anemic, with a hemoglobin level of 2.7 grams per deciliter of blood. A normal level for women is 12.

“They even double checked it because they did not know how someone was still alive let alone conscious and walking at a 2.7,” Kristyn says. “That’s just how incredibly strong she is.”

For Sandford, donated blood gave her a priceless gift — more time with her husband, Rob, and sons Ricky, 13, and JD, 11.

Because of blood, Sandford was able to leave the hospital and bake Valentine’s Day cookies with her sons.

a-pint-for-kim-3

Kim holding her boys with her nephews beside her.

A mission to help others

It became her mission to inspire others to donate blood. Even as she ended her treatment at Edward and moved into hospice care, she and her sisters continued planning a massive blood drive in Naperville.

A Pint for Kim, scheduled for March 8, 2020 in Naperville, has had so many people sign up to donate blood that new time slots are added (and filled) daily. If they can’t make it to the event, people are encouraged to donate and post a photo on social media with the hashtag, #apintforKim.

The event is on track to possibly be the largest single-day, single-location blood drive in the country.

“The idea of #apintforKim came during one of the nights that I was sitting up at the hospital with Kim,” says her sister, Kristyn Jo Benedyk. “She was in the ICU with all of these machines and cords and IVs connected to her. When you see someone you love in that situation, it’s hard to not feel helpless.

“The longer she stayed in the hospital and the more blood she got, the more determined I became to find a way to spread awareness about how this relatively simple act of giving blood can be the difference between someone living and someone dying,” Benedyk says.

Inspiring people to live more selflessly

“Anyone who knows Kim is not surprised that she is spending time and energy right now on spreading awareness about the need for blood donors,” says her other sister, Kathleen Fuglsang. “Kim is always thinking about how what she is going through can help others.”

Her oncology nurses shared a similar sentiment.

“I have taken care of Kim a lot over the past two years. Kim is beautiful inside and out. She has the greatest sense of humor, even when she doesn't feel well. She loves her two boys so much and loves to talk about them and share funny stories about them,” says Stacey Fornek, RN. “Even when everything in her life seems to be going awry, she is always concerned about everyone else's well-being, including mine! She is truly one of the strongest people I have ever met, and it has been an honor being able to take care of her.”

“She has this infectious way that you just want to sit and talk to her, laugh with and find the humor in an otherwise terrible situation,” says Shannon Temple, RN, who has signed up to donate in the March 8 blood drive. “Kim is a person that makes you want to be a better person, better nurse, better spouse, better friend, better Mom, just be better.  She left a mark on me that will never be forgotten.”

“I am amazed that at the same time that her family is dealing with Kim’s failing health and end of life issues that they have the generosity to think of others,” says Samir Undevia, M.D., associate medical director and Sandford’s oncologist at Edward.

Sandford and her sisters want ‘A Pint for Kim’ to not just be about the upcoming blood drive, but to spur a movement that spreads awareness about the ongoing need for blood donation.

Sandford said she hopes her experience continues to inspire others to give, not just blood, but to help others and the world around them.

"I know that there has to be a reason I went on this journey," Sandford said. “I hope that I went on it to inspire people to live more selflessly. And right now, one way to do that is through the blood drive.”

Learn more about the March 8 blood drive, A Pint for Kim, in Naperville.

Find a blood drive near you.

Related blog: 

Donating blood could help you, too

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