Watsonville Fire Captain knows — firsthand — the value of blood donations
Danny Lucas, who miraculously survived a near-fatal hunting accident, is promoting a Red Cross Central Coast Chapter blood drive on February 21
As a 35-year veteran of the Watsonville Fire Department, Captain Danny Lucas has seen more than his share of fire- or accident-related tragedies. “I’ve had to give the worst kind of news to next of kin,” he says.
Fighting to hold back tears, he quietly adds: “I didn’t want our own sons to have to make that kind of a call to my wife.”
But, because of a hunting accident in the wilds of Montana this past November, an emergency call to Danny’s wife had to be made. Cindi Lucas was told her husband was clinging to life and that she needed to immediately travel to his bedside.
The day of Danny’s accident, on November 20, couldn’t have been more picturesque. So much so that he had paused to snap a photo of his sons and father-in-law as they all began another day of hunting mule deer in the snow-covered hills outside Lewistown. Suddenly, a shot rang out, and Danny was struck by a large 7mm bullet.
Accidentally discharged from a rifle by a Montana resident who had joined the Lucas Family hunting party, the bullet tore through the large femoral artery of Danny’s left leg, also shattering the femur bone just above his kneecap.
His father-in-law (Ray Harris), and Danny and Cindi’s two sons (Danny Jr. and Chad) wasted no time grasping the seriousness of the situation. Bleeding profusely and in a very remote location with limited cell phone reception, Danny was in danger of dying during the roughly two hours it would take to drive him to the nearest medical facility in Lewistown.
Using Ray’s belt as a tourniquet, Danny’s family members drove toward — and were eventually able to call for — ambulance help. “The boys and Grandpa Ray did what they had to do,” Danny says now, expressing both gratitude and admiration.
Finally in a Lewistown hospital, Danny had the large femoral artery in his leg repaired during emergency surgery before being airlifted to a higher-level trauma center in Billings.
After emerging from a five-day medically induced coma in the ICU there, Danny was informed that the bottom half of his damaged leg might need to be amputated because of blood loss and nerve damage. After consultation with Cindi and other family members, Danny decided that that option would give him the best chance at successfully returning to his busy life and work in Watsonville.
It’s late January, a bit more than two months after the accident, and Danny is back home inside the comfortable Watsonville residence he shares with Cindi and the family dog, Stella. (A family friend had flown Danny back to California, and a surprise welcome-home party at Watsonville Airport around New Year’s.)
Using a metal walker, he is learning to capably navigate the home’s interior and exterior with one good leg and one leg that he hopes will soon be fitted with a prosthetic device. Listening to him recount his near-death experience, it becomes clear that Danny is trying his best to be both philosophical and positive about an accident that now serves as a milestone marker between his past and his future.
He was hospitalized for 41 painful days, during which he received 24 units of blood, 4 units of iron, injections of red blood cells, painkilling medications, dialysis treatments, and too many IVs to count.
But Danny is trying not to focus on the ordeal, instead expressing gratitude for the family members, physicians, and other emergency personnel who came to his aid — and for the people who donated the blood that the doctors there used to save his life.
As it turns out, Danny himself had been a very regular blood donor earlier in his life. “I think I had donated a total of something like 8 gallons,” he says, recalling how he regularly attended American Red Cross blood drives at the Watsonville Women’s Club.
“Honestly, I never thought I would never have my own moment of need,” he says. “I just wanted to help others.”
But Danny’s “moment” arrived — like so many other emergencies — without notice. Miraculously, he survived his, and he’s even beginning to envision a return to an emergency fire job that will enable him to help others — like others helped him in Montana.
But while he continues to gain strength, Danny has taken time away from his recovery to lend his name to a lifesaving project that has special meaning to him now: He is willing to tell his story, hoping it will help promote an upcoming Red Cross blood drive in Watsonville. (The drive is taking place on Friday, February 21, from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Pajaro Valley Health Trust Hall on 85 Nielson Street.)
Danny plans to attend the February 21 drive to thank people personally for finding the time to make a blood donation.
“I was taught a long time ago that life is less about you and more about what you can do to help others,” he says. “People really came to my aid in my time of need, so I want to get back to giving back now that I’m home again.”
How to schedule a blood donation: To make an appointment to donate in honor of Danny Lucas at the February 21 blood drive, use “sponsor code” WATSONVILL on the Red Cross Blood Donor App, online at RedCrossBlood.org, or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
“We are hopeful that others find Danny’s story to be as inspirational as we have,” says Michele Averill, CEO for the Central Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross. “We are extremely grateful that this very special local resident, even though he is still recovering from his own traumatic accident, is helping us call attention to the important need for lifesaving blood donations.”