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Blood donor meets the little life he helped save

Sean Higgins has donated blood every eight weeks for about 11 years, and he never knew where the blood ended up — until Wednesday.

That's when the Erie County sheriff's sergeant met little Evelyn Burkhardt, whose life was saved through blood transfusions. At 4 months old and 11 pounds, Evelyn looked comfortable in Higgins' arms in the lobby at John R. Oishei Children's Hospital.

"I always knew the importance of it, respected the importance of it," Higgins said. "Seeing Evelyn firsthand like this, seeing a person that actually received your blood, is really a great experience. Here she is. A beautiful little baby. You wouldn't think anything was wrong with her by looking at her."

Higgins met Evelyn and her family through Unyts to kickoff the organ, eye, tissue and blood donation agency's Holiday Heroes campaign. The campaign encourages blood donation in December and January.

Meeting the donor was the idea of Evelyn's grandmother, Vickie Lang of Lancaster. She said she always wanted to meet the people who received her mother's organs when her mother died in 1994. And this year she wanted to meet the people who have saved two of her family members.

Two weeks before Evelyn was born, Lang's son John was taken to the hospital on his 27th birthday for internal bleeding. He received four units of blood.

Four-month-old Evelyn Burkhardt already has had six surgeries and six blood transfusions in her short life. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

"They said he wouldn't have made it through the night," Lang said.

When Evelyn was born July 28, she was diagnosed with tracheoesophageal fistula and esophageal atresia, serious internal defects, including her esophagus not connected to her stomach, Lang said.  She had six surgeries and needed six units of blood over the 82 days she was in Oishei Children's Hospital.

"So that's 10 units that saved my family," she said. "I was just over-emotional to Unyts, and said I want to thank everybody."

The agency tracked where the blood originated, and found that two of the units came from Higgins, a father of three and grandfather of two, who has donated more than four gallons.

"I can’t express enough thanks. Without it, she wouldn’t be here," Lang said. "It's so important to make blood donations. You don’t know who you’re going to save."

Evelyn still has a feeding tube and colostomy, and she will need more surgery when she is about nine months old.

Unyts partners with police agencies and other first responders to have blood drives, particularly in December and January. Michael Wolter, vice president of blood donor services at Unyts, said his agency would like to introduce more blood donors and recipients. He also said he would like to let donors, if they want to, know where their blood went.

"You’ve got one great opportunity here. You can unquestionably save a life with only the smallest of inconvenience to yourself to give blood," Sheriff Tim Howard said.

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