On Valentine's Day last year, Jackie Cowles watched in shock as her husband of 49 years, a man with no health problems who trapped alligators in his spare time, collapsed, writhing in pain.
"And as he approached the bed, he grasped his chest and just, you know, and then he just kind of flopped down on the bed," Jackie Cowles said.
Bob Cowles, who was 69, remembers very little of that night. "I woke up, went to the bathroom, came back and that's the last thing I remember."
His wife called 911 and, luckily, the paramedics were three blocks away. Bob Cowles was rushed to Florida's Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where paramedics told the doctor he was "circling the drain," or struggling to survive. Bob Cowles had a thoracic aneurysm, essentially a torn aorta, which is the heart's primary blood vessel.
The doctor told Jackie Cowles that the problem was "fixable" but that he didn't know if they had enough time.
Bleeding profusely, he was in surgery for 12 hours. He needed a staggering 69 units of blood, which is nine times the amount of blood in the human body.
"One for each year of my life at that point," Bob Cowles said.
That blood didn't come from one or two donors; it came from 59 generous strangers who had donated blood.
This weekend, exactly one year after he was rushed to the hospital, Bob Cowles met many of the donors who saved his life at Sarasota's Suncoast Communities Blood Bank.
Some donors joked that he now had a little bit of them running through his veins.
"Can you play the piano?" one woman asked him.
"Maybe I'll have some talent and be able to play the piano now," he said.
Besides meeting the people who saved his life, Bob Cowles was there to roll up his sleeves and give back.
"When you have something like this happen to you, or you talk to people who go through similar circumstances, you say, 'Man, that's really incredible. Everyone should be donating blood as often as they can,'" he said.
Did You Know?
Thirty-seven percent of the population is eligible to donate blood, but annually only 10 percent do.
Your body has about six quarts of blood, which circulates through the body three times every minute. In one day, the blood travels a total of 12,000 miles, or four times the distance across the United States from coast to coast.
More About Blood Donation
The heart pumps about 1 million barrels of blood during an average lifetime, enough to fill more than three supertankers.
Find out more about blood donation at www.bloodcenters.org.
Feb. 16, 2009
By KELLY HAGAN/ABC News
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