ASBP: Blood Donations Help Save Soldier’s Life After Severe Burns
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Blood Donations Help Save Soldier’s Life After Severe Burns

06/17/2015
By Carl Norman, ASBP Blood Donor Recruiter, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
In the winter, some say there is nothing better than sitting by a cozy fireplace. That is exactly what Army Master Sgt. Matthew Deller thought one cold December morning in 2013. At the time, Deller was a first sergeant stationed on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, when “Old Man Winter” blew a chill into the Texas air.

After Deller started a fire in his home fireplace, he was engulfed by the flames. The tragic accident left Deller with burns on more than 77 percent of his body and a greater appreciation for blood donors than he could have ever imagined.

“I didn’t smell the leak in my natural gas line at all,” Deller said. “But I later learned that my gas line actually had four very small leaks, and the heat of multiple wood fires inside the fireplace had trapped pockets of gas in that portion of the line.”

A few minutes after the kindling started to burn, Deller added a larger log to help the fire grow. That’s when the trapped gas exploded and changed Deller’s life forever.

“The fire flashed me in the face and caught all my clothes and exposed skin on fire,” he said.

Although the pain was unbearable and shock wasn’t far away, Deller called on memories from past deployments to help him stay calm.

“During my first deployment, my unit lost several Soldiers to burn injuries sustained when they panicked and ran when a (roadside bomb) set their vehicle on fire,” Deller said. “So, I told myself that I had to remain calm and think of the best way to stop the fire.”

He considered jumping in the upstairs shower but ignored that idea for fear of falling while going up or down the stairs. He also thought about using the sprayer on the kitchen sink but couldn’t get there because he and his home were engulfed in flames.

“So I ran and jumped in my in-ground pool,” he said. “When I came out I had nothing left of my clothes except the waistband of my boxer briefs. So I ran to my neighbor's house, not realizing I was completely naked, to get help.”

Deller said when his neighbor didn't answer her door, he went back into his home and grabbed a coat, wrapped it around his waist, and went back to beat on his neighbor’s windows and front door until she answered.

“She finally opened the door and was shocked and scared,” Deller said. “But she snapped to and called 911.”

Deller said his neighbor talked to him until the paramedics arrived and that’s when reality hit.

“Their faces told me that it was really bad,” he said. “Just before giving me some medication for the pain, the battalion fire chief told me she needed me to tell her who to call and that I was going to be okay. So I told her to call my children's mom and to call the Army. Then I told her I was going to be okay.”

Some 19 days after arriving at the San Antonio Military Medical Center Burn Intensive Care Unit that fateful day, Deller woke up for the first time. He couldn't breathe on his own, speak or move any part of his body.

“The only thing I could do by myself was cry,” he said.

And for the next 70 days Deller wandered in and out of medically induced comas while enduring nine major graft surgeries. He then spent another 39 days going through intense physical and occupational rehab twice a day. He left the hospital March 27, 2014.

“Since then, I've had eight more surgeries and 50 more days of inpatient treatment,” he said. “I was told that I took about 10 liters of blood over the course of all my graft work and I’m grateful for every drop.”

Deller said today he’s doing well, no longer needing physical or occupational therapy and he’s living completely on his own.

“I still have a minor surgery coming up but my goal is to transition back into regular duty in the next three to six months,” he said.

Deller joined the Army Aug. 12, 1997 to become a combat medic and help save lives. Before his accident, he saw the horrors of traumatic injuries and knows firsthand how important blood is to Soldiers injured on the battlefield. Today he has an all new appreciation for blood and the people who give it.

The blood that Deller received came from the Armed Services Blood Program, the official blood program of the U.S. military. According to Navy Capt. Roland Fahie, ASBP director, the military health care system requires about 400 units of blood every day to help people like Deller recover from injuries and illness.

“Blood cannot be manufactured or reproduced, therefore volunteer donors are the heart and soul of the military blood program,” Fahie said. “All blood donated to the Armed Services Blood Program directly supports ill or injured service members, like Master Sgt. Deller, whenever and wherever they need it. A single donation can sometimes be the difference between life and death for many of our service members, veterans and their families.”

“If it wasn’t for people donating to the Armed Services Blood Program, I would have died from not getting adequate or timely care for my injuries,” Deller said. “Donating blood is the easiest and most selfless act a fellow human being can do for someone else. People who donate blood are my personal heroes. They are saving lives each and every day.”

This summer, the ASBP is conducting 24 blood drives on Fort Knox to help ill or injured service members – no matter their service – like Deller who are in need of lifesaving blood and blood products. From June 27-Aug. 10, collection teams from four ASBP blood donor centers will ask the Fort Knox community and ROTC cadets attending summer training on the installation to roll up their sleeves and save lives.

“We cannot get the blood people like Master Sgt. Deller need without people volunteering to donate,” said Army Lt. Col. Audra Taylor, director of the Army Blood Program. “So if you have your health, celebrate it by giving blood to those who are not as fortunate – and allow them live to tell about it.”

Donating blood takes less than an hour to complete and a single donation has the potential to save up to three lives. Donors must be at least 17 years of age, weigh at least 110 pounds and have been feeling well for at least three consecutive days. They must also be well hydrated and have eaten something before donating. Those wanting to donate should bring a list of foreign countries traveled to — be sure to include when, where and for how long — and a photo identification.

Cadets are scheduled for a specific donation time, but others volunteering to donate will be greeted separately to maximize their time. Civilians can donate at any time; however a special block has been reserved from 1-4 p.m. each day. Everyone coming out to donate will receive a free ASBP T-shirt and a heart-felt “thank you.”

ASBP blood drives will be conducted on the following dates at Smith Gym:
  • June 27-28
  • June 30
  • July 1
  • July 9-11
  • July 13
  • July 17-19
  • July 21
  • July 25-27
  • July 30-31
  • Aug. 2-4
  • Aug. 6-8
  • Aug. 10
“I cannot tell you how much it means to me to be a blood recipient, especially given the amount that I needed,” Deller said. “I’ve talked with every burn survivor that I’ve met about those people who saved us and that includes everyone from the doctors, nurses, physical and occupational therapists to the very people who donated the blood we needed in our most critically tragic and traumatic moments.

“Donating blood is the greatest single act you can do to help save a life on or off the battlefield. I beg each able-bodied individual to consider donating as frequently as they can because they never know when the next patient could be themselves or one of their loved ones.”

Currently, Deller is on active duty and is assigned to Bravo Company, Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston as he continues to heal.

For more information, please contact Linda Ellerbe, ASBP blood donor recruiter for the Fort Bragg Blood Donor Center, at linda.l.ellerbe.civ@mail.mil or (910) 396-9925.

About the Armed Services Blood Program
Since 1962, the Armed Services Blood Program has served as the sole provider of blood for the United States military. As a tri-service organization, the ASBP collects, processes, stores and distributes blood and blood products to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and their families worldwide. As one of four national blood collection organizations trusted to ensure the nation has a safe, potent blood supply, the ASBP works closely with our civilian counterparts by sharing donors on military installations where there are no military blood collection centers and by sharing blood products in times of need to maximize availability of this national treasure. To find out more about the ASBP or to schedule an appointment to donate, please visit www.militaryblood.dod.mil. To interact directly with ASBP staff members, see more photos or get the latest news, follow @militaryblood on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Pinterest. Find the drop. Donate.