"I Wouldn’t Be Here At All if Not for Many Generous Blood Donors,"
Says Thalassemia Patient, Lisa Falco Giudice
Lisa Falco Giudice describes her life as full, happy, and normal.
Yet, at 33, she has already received more than 1,500 pints of blood to combat Thalassemia Major (or Cooley’s Anemia), a genetic blood disorder she’s had since before her first birthday.
The condition – commonly found in people of Mediterranean ancestry and, to a lesser extent, in Chinese, other Asian and African populations – is characterized by low hemoglobin production and excessive destruction of red blood cells. The resulting anemia creates a lack of oxygen in the blood stream, and requires ongoing, frequent transfusions for survival.
Despite the challenges she’s faced, Lisa’s personality sparkles like the gold, silver, and platinum she buys, sells, and repairs every day at the jewelry shop where she works full-time. She is positive, animated, and on-the-go.
"This is the only life I know," she says, "and I have a good outlook on it.
Diagnosed with Thalassemia Major as a six-month-old infant, Lisa has been receiving red blood cell transfusions ever since, at 3-week intervals. Additionally, because extensive, lifelong blood transfusions lead to iron-overload in the body, she has been treated throughout her life with iron chelation therapy. This treatment introduces a drug into the body that binds with excess iron and removes it through the urine or stool.
Even with chelation therapy, some of Lisa’s organs have been affected. An iron overload caused her to have two heart attacks at the age of 15, and she has also developed diabetes, which she treats with insulin shots four times each day.
"Life has tested me," she says, "but I wouldn’t be here at all if it weren’t for the many generous blood donors who have given me the chance to grow up, get married, work at something I love, and enjoy all the same things as everyone else."
Lisa knows that her experiences with Thalassemia are the driving force behind her husband Rob Giudice’s passion for increasing blood donation. Rob serves as the New Jersey State Masonic Blood Program Chairman, and is one of the founding members of the New Jersey Workplace Blood Donor Coalition.
"I want to do everything I possibly can to increase blood donation for others, like Lisa, and the family members who care about them," says Rob. "Lisa is the love of my life and I want to keep her forever."
Lisa describes her blood type – RHO Negative – as "rarest of the rare", and explains that she’s lucky to have a hospital that is almost always able to provide her precise-match transfusions on schedule. This is not always possible for patients in need, especially among certain ethnic groups.
"My mom has always said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger," says Lisa. "I guess I’m a perfect example of that philosophy."