“I love donating blood. It’s so simple, and it does so much.” –Rita Ronchi, blood recipient and blood donor

When first responders arrived at the scene of Rita Ronchi’s car crash, at first they thought there were no survivors. When they looked inside the severely damaged vehicle, they found Rita—she had survived the near-fatal crash, but her legs were pinned under the dash and she was trapped. It took almost an hour to free Rita from the vehicle—and then her journey was just beginning.

Rita sustained a variety of serious injuries, including a profound traumatic brain injury, deep scalp lacerations, a stroke, and severe bone fractures. Rita also experienced a coma and weakness on the left side of her body. Rita later learned that the odds in the ICU were not good during her first days and weeks. “There is no medical reason for my survival. I was given a 1% chance,” said Rita.

After 30 days in the intensive care unit at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, a persistent physician glimpsed some hope for Rita and her family, and Rita was transferred to Miller-Dwan Rehabilitation Center. “When I left the ICU, my mom was told I’d be a vegetable for the rest of my life,” said Rita. But Dr. Skip Silvestrini told Rita’s mom that Rita deserved a chance. What followed was 8.5 months of inpatient rehab, 9 months of day patient rehab, and outpatient physical therapy that continued for 3.5 years. At age 18, Rita had to learn how to do everything — walk, talk, smile, and more — all over again.

Ultimately, Rita needed 24 units of blood to sustain her during multiple surgeries and treatments, including above-the-knee amputation of her right leg. Thanks to faith, prayer, her hard work in physical rehab, and her committed care team, Rita walked across the stage at her high school graduation almost exactly 1 year after her crash.

Rita is now recovered from her 2006 crash, and though she will always be living with her disabilities – the limitations, frustrations, and joyful moments – Rita loves to share her story as a volunteer speaker. Her miraculous story and determined recovery even resulted in meeting one of her favorite musicians, Dave Matthews! Whenever she can, Rita donates blood at Memorial Blood Centers’ Superior donor center. “I see life as a gift. I try to be thankful for what I have and not complain about what I don’t,” says Rita. “I’m not very good with words, but in the end, donating blood is so simple and does such a big thing.”