It all started over 30 years ago when Cathy Mendoza of Modesto, California was pregnant. As a normal part of her prenatal blood work, Cathy discovered that she had O negative blood and was CMV (Cytomegalovirus) negative. CMV is a flu-like virus that most adults are exposed to over their lifetimes. Cathy was never exposed to CMV, so she does not have the antibodies to it. While CMV is generally harmless for adults, it can be fatal for babies. In layman’s terms, Cathy has very special blood. Her blood type and Rh factor, plus the fact that she does not have CMV antibodies, make her blood essential for babies who need a transfusion.
Cathy is one of a small but mighty group of blood donors across the country who are often referred to as “Heroes for Babies.” Without these special blood donors, sick babies would not receive the lifesaving blood transfusions they desperately need. Initially, Cathy was the donor in the family who would regularly be called to donate her blood to help medically-fragile infants who needed transfusions. Then, her dad, Gerald, decided to donate, and low and behold, he has the same blood type and Rh factor as Cathy.
Since her first donation over 30 years ago, both Cathy and her father have continued to donate blood regularly. Cathy recently hit her 14-gallon donation milestone. In addition to regularly donating blood, Cathy is also the Executive Director for Society for disABILITIES in Modesto. The Society provides numerous adapted recreational programs, and it also operates the largest medical equipment loan closet in Northern California. You can find out more about the society’s work on their website.
When asked what she would say to someone who is considering donating blood but worries that the process might hurt, Cathy simply encourages people to try it.
“Sign up, make sure you are well hydrated, and if you are a little nervous, don’t be afraid to let the Red Cross nurse know you are a first timer” she said. “They are always so caring, and will take good care of you. The process is easy and painless, and can literally save a life. It’s a way to give back to your community that does not cost anything but your time. The reward of knowing that your donation may save a life far outweighs a little time taken out of your day.”
A family affair, Cathy and her father have spent decades giving life to their community, one unit of blood at a time.
About the author: Megan Erk is the Pacific Division External Relations Lead, Executive Board Member, and CEO Volunteer Partner for the Central Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross.