Nathan McDonald’s face lit up when he saw his wife, Merideth McDonald, rollerblade up the walkway of BWH’s Stoneman Centennial Park at 15 Francis St. last week. Merideth had just completed a 34-day, 1,420-mile skate from Florida to the Brigham—all to raise awareness of traumatic brain injury and to continue the family’s commitment to donating blood to help save lives.
“Today means so much to my family, friends and I,” said Nathan McDonald. “It was such a surreal moment to witness Merideth skate up the walkway at the hospital that saved my life.”
In 2009, Nathan, then 27, a U.S. Air Force reservist, was seriously injured in Tewksbury, Mass., when his motorcycle slammed into a garbage truck. Nathan arrived at BWH in critical condition. He suffered massive blood loss, a pelvic fracture, several orthopaedic injuries and a traumatic head injury. During his first night at the Brigham, Nathan received a total of 30 blood transfusions.
Since then, Merideth and Nathan have dedicated their lives to raising awareness about traumatic brain injury. In 2015, they launched a nonprofit called the Big Life Brain Injury Group. Big Life is a rehabilitative adventure club in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., for brain injury survivors and their caregivers.
To continue her family’s mission to raise awareness about brain injury and the Big Life Brain Injury Group, Merideth set out on a “Big Skate” adventure from New Smyrna Beach to Boston on Sept. 10. She wanted to end at BWH as a way to thank the hospital and her husband’s care team for all that they did to keep Nathan alive.
In addition, Merideth ended her skate at BWH to highlight the urgent need for blood donors. The Kraft Family Blood Donor Center hosted a blood drive at 15 Francis St. on Oct. 14 in Nathan’s honor.
In total, 42 blood donors, including Nathan, went aboard the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham and Women’s Hospital Blood Mobile to donate blood that day.
William Savage, MD, PhD, associate medical director of the Blood Bank, was on hand during the celebration to greet the McDonald family and friends and to thank donors. Several of the McDonalds’ family members and friends also donated.
Savage spoke to news reporters covering the event about the importance of blood donation and the constant need for donors.
“The contribution that a donation can provide to someone is touching,” he said. “We always need red blood cells, platelets and plasma for our patients, but another part of blood donation that is significant is the invisible connection being made between donors and the patients who receive the blood.”
After her skate, Merideth was greeted with cheers and applause from family, friends and members of Nathan’s care team, all of whom stood outside the 15 Francis entrance awaiting her arrival. One special cheerleader also in the group was the McDonalds’ daughter, Lija, whose middle name is Brigham in honor of BWH.
“This is where our journey with brain injury began, which changed our entire family,” Merideth said. “Nothing has impacted our life like brain injury. Nathan was broken from head to toe, and his care team at the Brigham saved his life.”