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“You just never know when it could be you or your loved ones who needs it.” – Jenea

In 2019, Jenea was excited to welcome her daughter to the world. When she came down with pneumonia, she hoped it was just a minor inconvenience that would soon pass. 

“I was about 24 weeks along, and the fevers never really stopped after that. My doctor chalked them up to pregnancy, but there were other complications too. I had heart murmurs. My fingernails were curling. My temperature was between 100–103° every day of the rest of my pregnancy.”

That fall, her daughter Oliviah was born. She came a few weeks early, and afterward Jenea still wasn’t feeling herself. “My fevers continued. I had a CT scan scheduled, but things just didn’t feel right. One day about a week before my scan I went to the ER with my dad. Later, my doctor told me that if I’d waited for that appointment I would not be here today.”

Jenea’s doctor ran blood tests, conducted an MRI and a CT scan, and took a bedside ultrasound. “After that, the ER doctor told me ‘Something’s not right with your heart. We have an ambulance from Regions coming for you.’”

Jenea’s care team discovered she had bacterial endocarditis, an infection of the heart. It had eaten through most of her mitral valve—one of the four heart valves that keep blood flowing in the right direction. They also discovered that the infection had spread. 

“It was in my liver, my kidneys, and my right foot.”

Within days of her trip to the ER, and when her daughter Oliviah was just 25 days old, Jenea underwent open-heart surgery.

“I asked my doctor to take a picture of my old valve because I was curious what it looked like. He said, ‘If there’s anything left, we’ll take a picture.’”

Surgery to replace Jenea’s valve was successful. However, once it was completed, her liver wouldn’t clot. She began bleeding out on the table. “I needed three emergency blood transfusions,” Jenea said. “After my surgery, my doctor told me, ‘I didn’t think you were coming out of that surgery. You were so sick.’”

Jenea spent two weeks recovering in the hospital and needed four weeks of cardiac rehab. “I was the youngest person in the class by at least 40 years!”

Meanwhile, her sister-in-law—who had had a baby of her own just five weeks after Jenea, helped care for her newborn daughter.

“I gave blood all throughout high school and later in college and at community blood drives,” Jenea said. “If I could say something to people who are thinking about donating blood, it would be: just do it. It’s not as scary as it seems. I absolutely despise needles, but the cause is worth it.”

Jenea will likely need a second surgery about 20 years after her first to replace her prosthetic tissue valve. She will likely require additional blood transfusions during that procedure. For her, the cause of blood donation is near and dear to her heart.

You just never know when it could be you or your loved ones who needs it.”