When Mali started as a Mayo Clinic employee 24 years ago, she never imagined that her whole career would revolve around blood product in one way or another.
Beginning her career in venipuncture, Mali was then hired as a technician for the Blood Donor Center in 2002, where her responsibilities included drawing units daily from donors while building relationships with them by keeping them comfortable and informed during their donation. While learning the processes of blood collection and testing, she came to understand just how safe the product she was collecting was. At that time, she was also going back to college to earn her registered nurse (RN) degree.
Her next career responsibilities took her to the Infusion Therapy Center (ITC) area, where she would daily watch patients perk up immediately after receiving a unit of blood. She was able to offer them assurance of the safety of the blood product they were receiving, having worked at the Blood Donor Center herself. “It was very reassuring to my patients when I would share with them my knowledge of the testing the blood they were receiving had already been through. I even told them that I would feel extremely comfortable having my kids receive blood here at Mayo Clinic, knowing of the careful and thorough processing it goes through before it gets to the patient,” Mali shares.
Recently Mali has returned to a nursing role at the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Center, taking her career in a full circle. She found that after having worked with the patients who receive the blood, she had a whole new perspective. “Now being back here as a Resource Nurse, I have a face that I see in each unit of blood. A unit of blood means so much more to me, because I had so many patients who I transfused it to. It was helpful for me to have seen the people who it affected and really made a difference for,” she reflects.
Mali’s experience with medical struggles began long before she started her career at Mayo Clinic. At age 11, she was diagnosed with type I diabetes. A typical day involved constant monitoring of her blood sugars. She mastered this practice with the help of her insulin pump, controlling her disease beautifully for about 32 years, but then she began experiencing an increased fluctuation with her levels’ highs and lows. It wasn’t until her daughter tearfully shared with her, “Mom, I worry every night that you won’t wake up in the morning,” that she realized her condition was not only an inconvenience for her, but it was affecting those closest to her by causing them worry and stress. It was then that she decided to discuss her options for a pancreas transplant.
Waitlisted on the transplant list for 15 months, Mali was elated when she received the call that her care team had a pancreas for her. On January 26, 2017, at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Mali’s life changed forever—and for the better.
Everything with the actual transplant went fine, but post-surgery Mali experienced a bowel obstruction that kept her hospitalized and closely monitored for a five-week stay at Mayo Clinic. “Since my transplant, I haven’t needed any insulin nor have I had to check my blood sugars. The transplant worked perfectly,” Mali shares. She now feels extremely free—in the past, sugar such as glucose tablets and raisins had to be within reach at all times. “I didn’t know any other way of life.”
Although Mali never received blood product during her pancreas transplant, she says, “I received an organ, so it’s kind of the same thing, and I tell people all of the time that I am a transplant patient.” She doesn’t share this with those she comes into contact with to get a “Wow!” reaction, but to prove that you never know when someone you meet has been blessed with a successful transplant. She hopes to help them recognize the lifesaving difference that an organ or blood transfusion can make in someone’s life.
Mali and her family have taken that message to heart. “At the one-year anniversary of my transplant, I really wanted to donate blood, but I could not due to my low hemoglobin. My daughter came in with me that day and donated for her second time in order to celebrate my special day. My children are all organ donors and try to donate blood whenever they can.”
In fact, just a few weeks ago in April, which is also Donate Life Month, Mali was excited to have met the criteria and successfully donated blood once again to our patients.