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Release of Likeness

Plasma donors gave Kelsey the gift of life in her battle against a rare blood disease.

In January of her senior year in high school, Kelsey Miller was taking college classes in addition to holding down a part-time job at the local mall. “I started having headaches and feeling really, really tired,” she explains. “I figured that I was just overworked and overstressed because I was taking such hard classes. But I started getting bruises on my body and I got worried.” When Kelsey’s pediatrician ran blood tests, a startling result emerged: Kelsey was suffering from thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, commonly called TTP, a rare blood disease. “Having TTP meant that I didn’t have enough platelets in my blood. When I was admitted to the hospital, my platelet count was 7,000 when the normal range is between 150,000 and 450,000,” said Kelsey. “For the first six days, I had to stay in bed and stay perfectly still at a 30° angle. But my body wasn’t responding to the plasma transfusions. I ran into my doctor months later, and it was only then that he told me that it had been touch-and-go—the medical staff had not been sure I was going to make it.”

After a switch in the type of plasma Kelsey was receiving, her system began to respond and she underwent a two-treatment-a-day regimen. “It was a game of numbers: If I was high, I would get a day or a weekend off, then I would get tested again. I had a split-off catheter that was a direct route to my heart,” recalled Kelsey. “All in all, I ended up having about 37 plasmapheresis as well as two blood transfusions and four rounds of chemo to help my platelets come back.” “My body responded much sooner—and once you’re back, you’re back!” comments Kelsey on her latest recovery.

Kelsey’s story is a remarkable example of how far medical treatments have come in the last decade. “Years ago, TTP had an 80% fatality rate,” Kelsey commented. “But today, it has an 80% survival rate.” Kelsey’s experience also offers a unique perspective as she pursues her biology and pre-med studies. “My first-hand experience has really given me a unique perspective from the patient’s point of view. Now I know how it feels to think you’re going to die. But I also know how doctors and nurses—and blood donors—can change all that.”