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Cancer survivor's challenge: Give the gift of life this season

By Mark Kelly, Special to CNN
updated 2:03 PM EST, Thu December 13, 2012
Mark Kelly reaches for a door prize to give away at the third annual Bob Buechner Holy Cross Blood Drive.
Mark Kelly reaches for a door prize to give away at the third annual Bob Buechner Holy Cross Blood Drive.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mark Kelly survived cancer and a flesh-eating bacteria infection
  • Kelly received donor blood during his treatment for both diseases
  • He calls blood donors his "angels" and challenges others to give the gift of life

Editor's note: Mark Kelly is the athletic director of St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta, Georgia. Kelly runs the school's blood drive program and serves on the board of directors for the American Red Cross Southern Blood Services Region.

(CNN) -- "Giving blood sounds scary."

"I don't know if I can do that."

"I don't know if I have the time to do that."

These are sentiments shared by many, including me at one point in my life. I heard the statistics -- one unit of blood saves three lives -- but the numbers did not touch my heart, did not touch my soul. Then the statistics became personal. My hope is that, by hearing my story and the stories of others, they become personal for you, too.

I have a wonderful wife. Linda is a nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit. What she does every day is remarkable and inspiring. I have four amazing children and three grandchildren. They have become the joy and center of my life. I live to indulge and spoil them! (It could be that their parents and I are not quite on the same page on this!) I have a job that I can't wait to get to every morning.

All of this is possible because of the "angels" in my life.

Shooting survivor says blood donations saved her life

In 1969 at my high school sports physical exam, I discovered that I had melanoma, a form of skin cancer. Two years later, the cancer had progressed to Stage 4. I was told there was no available treatment that could help me. I was going to die. I was given two years to live. I had always been a very upbeat and optimistic person, but this prognosis was a blow.

Then I received a call from Dr. Douglass Murray at Emory Hospital. He and Dr. William Cassells had developed an experimental cancer treatment that they thought could have an effect on my cancer. I became one of 13 people in this program. Over the next two years, I had surgery, I received chemotherapy and I received the experimental drug.

More important than any of that, however, I received the wonderful and loving care of Murray. He was my "angel." After two years, the other 12 people in the group had all died. However, all of us lived longer and more meaningful lives because of the drug, because of Murray, and because when we needed blood during our treatment, blood was there.

It can only be there when people like you give.

Sickle cell patient won't let disease define her

In summer 1984, God offered me another opportunity for growth. I had a diverticulitis attack, and my colon ruptured. All this was seemingly not a problem until I contracted a very rare infection. At that time, little was known about it, but now it is well known as the "flesh-eating bacteria."

I was in the intensive care unit at Emory Hospital for four months. During that time, I went to surgery 18 times. For much of the time, I was on a respirator because I could not breathe on my own. Linda was told that I was simply too sick to live, that I was going to die. During that time, I received 133 units of blood.

I lived because of the love and care of my family, my community and my doctors and nurses. They were my "angels." I also lived because, when I needed blood, blood was there. People like you gave. Those who gave were -- and still are -- my "angels."

This Christmas season: Give the gift of life. Give someone the ability to hug their grandchild someday. Please give blood. Be someone's "Angel."

To learn more about becoming a blood donor or to make a donation appointment with the American Red Cross, visit RedCrossBlood.org.

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