Carola Enriquez

Carola Enriquez

It was Friday, Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving, at 8:54 p.m. when we noticed a significant drop in our dwindling stock of O negative blood and posted this message to social media:

“Tonight our O- red blood cell supply has dipped into the danger zone. Perhaps it is due to the terrible accident at 99 and Taft Highway tonight leaving a young woman and child severely injured, and one child dead. This is exactly the kind of sudden change in our blood supply we have to be prepared for. Can you help us restock??”

Most of the time we know nothing at all about the patients who receive the products our donors provide, but in this case we did learn that a young woman received many units of O- blood in the rush to save her life, but unfortunately had not survived her injuries. As the days have passed we have gathered from news, and other public sources, who this patient was: Karla Mendoza.

The story is this. A young family from Half Moon Bay was traveling south through Kern County on Highway 99 at about 3:15 p.m. when they got a flat tire just north of Highway 119. Driver Juan Rodriquez slowed to a stop in the center median divider, turned on his hazard signal, and got out of his 2002 Jeep to change the tire. Remaining in the car were his wife Karla and their children Zoey, 3, and Emiliano, 5.

A 2017 Chevrolet speeding south, with an allegedly drunk driver at the wheel, drifted into the center median, striking Juan's parked Jeep. We can only imagine Juan's horror as the Jeep holding his family was struck and slammed forward, ending up on its side on the center divider with his wife and children trapped inside. The Jeep then caught fire. Kind motorists stopped and rushed over with fire extinguishers to put out the fire and managed to remove Karla and the children from the burning vehicle.

Karla and Zoe were rushed to the hospital, but little Emiliano died at the scene. Kern Medical tried to save Karla for hours, but she did not make it. Zoe underwent leg and hip surgery according to a GoFundMe account for the family at Funds for medical and funeral expenses are being sought.

A similar tragedy could happen to any of us or someone we know at any time. It is one of those worst fears we push away any time family or friends are traveling over a holiday weekend. We may not realize it, but we are all relying on the blood bank serving the community we visit or travel through to have the blood products needed readily available in case of emergency. Each blood bank relies on volunteer donors to provide those products in sufficient supply to meet both daily and emergency needs.

The universal blood products, which can go to patients of any blood type, are needed in dire situations like Karla's. These products are O- blood, AB plasma and platelets from any blood type. These products are always needed, and we have been running low on all of them for some time.

We are looking for new donors all the time, so whether you know your blood type or not, please come in to join our team this holiday season. If you are already a donor but have not made it in recently, now is the time. Let's not forget that no matter where we go, and no matter how busy we are this holiday season, families just like ours will be traveling the nation’s highways and just might need blood products. Only you can ensure our local supplies are adequate with your gifts of life.

So, our holiday wish is for new donors, 800 platelets over the month of December, full shelves of all blood types, and a robust supply of the universal blood products: O- red cells and AB plasma. The platelets can come from any blood type, and we would love to tell you more about the automated donation process used to produce them. Call 616-2540 for more information about our needs this holiday season, or to ask about your eligibility. Do not count yourself out if you have had valley fever or cancer in the past, or have high blood pressure or diabetes now.

Many otherwise healthy people with those health concerns can donate blood.

Safe travels and happy holidays to you and yours throughout the coming holidays from Houchin Community Blood Bank.

Carola Enriquez is director of community development for Houchin Community Blood Bank of Bakersfield. The opinions expressed are her own.