Saving My Life With A Blood Transfusion

Anna Macaluso

Contributed by: Anna Macaluso

At the tender age of ten, I began having gastrointestinal symptoms so severe that I required repeated medical attention. A year later, when the doctor could not figure out was wrong, she recommended a specialist, a gastroenterologist, who diagnosed me with Ulcerative Colitis and prescribed several medications, one being Prednisone.

During a routine checkup at the age of twelve, my doctor noticed that my liver and spleen were severely enlarged. After doing lab work and finding that my liver enzymes were extremely high, he wanted to do more testing, one of those tests being a liver biopsy. Because I was so young, the doctor wanted to see firsthand what my liver looked like, which would mean some serious cutting. My father asked for advice from a liaison committee of Jehovah’s Witness Elders, and based on their recommendation, he quickly put a stop to that idea. He believed such surgery would put me at risk for needing a blood transfusion, which is forbidden by the Watch Tower Society.

Several months later, my father agreed to a liver biopsy by needle. I remember on the day of the procedure one of the elders and his wife were at the hospital. At the last minute my father panicked and almost would’t allow the procedure. Finally, after much pleading with him that I needed to know what was wrong with me, he okayed the biopsy.

The diagnosis was Autoimmune Hepatitis and Cirrhosis of the Liver – the final stage of liver disease – pretty serious stuff.

Throughout my teen years I tried to live a normal life, all the while getting sicker and sicker. I would go back to see my specialist physician on a routine basis, but he wasn’t helping me get better. All he did was adjust my dose of steroids and change my medications. I remember driving myself to the appointments at sixteen years of age and pleading with the doctor, “I just don’t feel right. There has to be something more that you can do for me.”

Anna Macaluso at age 12

Anna Macaluso at age 12

My parents also told me that a liver transplant was not possible since my body would reject it. I trusted them and never questioned their judgment. I also trusted my doctor and felt that he was doing everything in his power to help me. My father, being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, also made it very clear, again and again, to my doctor and me that he would never allow a blood transfusion.

Later that year I started working in the home of one of my high school teachers. She injured her leg and needed help doing yard work, cleaning windows, and for other odd jobs around the house. During this time, we became close and I began opening up to her about my life and health issues. She could see that I was very ill. Half the time she didn’t make me work at all. Instead she would take me out for lunch and shopping, all the while still paying me for the “day’s work.” I even spent the night with her and her family on occasion to get away from home. Eventually we made tentative plans for me to move in with her and her family once I turned eighteen.

My teacher, Linda, began to realize just how sick I was and that my family and doctors were doing little to nothing to help me. At first, she called my parents to ask for permission to take me to see her doctor. They firmly told her “no” and to stop worrying about me. Linda, being the kind person she was, wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. One day when I was supposed to be working at her house, she decided to take me to see her doctor without my parent’s permission. Normally, a good doctor would have refused to see me, but he did this as a favor for Linda. After seeing me, he decided to do some diagnostic lab work.

About a week later, after staying the night in my teacher’s home, I readied myself for school like any other day. But something wasn’t right. I felt strange and knew that something was seriously wrong. Something inside me was saying that I needed to get help quickly.

I told Linda how I was feeling. She said that she planned to go to school, but that she would call her doctor during first period. About halfway through my first class, my teacher pulled me out to say that her doctor wanted me to go to the hospital emergency room immediately as he was very concerned about my blood work results. I knew I couldn’t tell my parents because they didn’t know that I had seen Linda’s doctor.

Linda’s daughter took me to the ER. Even though I was only seventeen years old and did not have my parents consent, I was admitted into the hospital. I found out later that a minor can be admitted if the ER physician feels it is a “medical emergency.”

At that point, I didn’t realize how serious my situation really was because I had been there before. I thought the doctor would give me a new medicine or change my steroid dose. After all, that’s what had happened all my life. This time, however, I was in for a rude awakening.

I can still remember what the ER doctor told me like it was yesterday. “Anna, you’re going to need a blood transfusion and a liver transplant.” My world started spinning. I started crying like a baby, knowing I had a life-altering choice to make.

I immediately cried out, “I can’t accept a blood transfusion. I’m a Jehovah’s Witness.”

The doctor tried to ease my fears and told me he would try not to use a blood transfusion to help me.

At first I was afraid to call my parents. For starters, they would know I had lied and gone against their wishes that I should not have seen Linda’s doctor. Second, I was afraid they would be angry that I had not called them sooner and allowed my teacher’s daughter to take me to the hospital without consulting them. Third, I knew they would bring the elders with them.

I finally called home and told my parents what was going on. I begged my father that if he came to the hospital to please come alone and not bring any of the elders—one elder in particular. My father agreed, but in spite of my wishes ended up bringing that elder with him anyway.

Anna age 17

Anna at age 17 when she received a blood transfusion

The one thing that I will never forget is that elder glaring at me while saying to my father – but not to me – “Don’t worry, Anna won’t accept a blood transfusion. She’s a good girl.”

The next morning, Linda came to see me and mentioned that she and her doctor had crossed paths in the elevator. He made it clear to her that I would not survive without a blood transfusion. His exact words were, “I don’t know how attached you are to this little girl, but without a blood transfusion she won’t be here in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours.”

When I heard that, I realized I was not willing to die for this religion – especially not at the age of seventeen when something as simple as a blood transfusion could prolong my life.

My parents visited with me later that morning. As they stood at the foot of my bed, I looked directly at them and announced that I was going to accept a blood transfusion. “I am not ready to die—I want to live.”

The only thing I remember was my mom saying, “Jehovah won’t like that.”

Being numb at this point, I don’t remember exactly what my father said except that he would refuse to sign the consent. It was a short visit to say the least.

At that point, a social worker put things in motion to take this matter to court. My teacher and her husband decided they would become my legal guardians and sign the consent for my life-saving blood transfusion. I would move in with them after coming home from the hospital.

Within a few hours I was receiving my first unit of blood. The nurses had hooked everything up before my parents were supposed to return to the hospital. I found out later that they were informed about the court hearing and decided to not show up. I guess not being there made everything easier for them.

After I accepted the blood transfusions, “friends” from the Kingdom Hall began visiting me every day. I even had a close friend from New York fly down to stay with me in the hospital. And, of course, she brought Watchtower and Awake! magazines with her. The particular Awake! issue she carried with her featured an article about not accepting blood transfusions. It was as if they were all trying to convince me that I should feel guilty for choosing life!

When the Witnesses found out that I was moving in with my teacher, they stopped visiting me. They now considered me to be a “bad association.”

After I was discharged from the hospital, the elders began hounding me – insisting that I meet with them for a judicial committee meeting. I refused.

A year later, the elders used my parents as a way to threaten me, telling them that they would have to “disassociate” from me if I refused to meet with the judicial committee.

That particular threat really angered me. I told my parents to tell the elders “they could do whatever they felt they needed to do” – but I was not going to meet with them. The very next week there was an announcement at my old Kingdom Hall that I had been “disassociated.”

I refused to apologize for saving my life. Since then I’ve never stepped foot in a Kingdom Hall again.

I won’t lie and say it was easy. I was a wreck for several years afterwards. However, I can now say that I’m happier than ever and have no regrets. My family does continue to shun me to a degree. Occasionally they will find a loophole so they can speak to me, but it’s on a very superficial basis.

I have two younger sisters who are also no longer part of that cult. One sister was disfellowshipped and the other had never been baptized.

I ended up having a liver transplant in January, 2004. The story above took place in October, 2003. Unfortunately, I had to have a second transplant in May, 2011. But now I am doing better than ever and have never looked back.

I could be bitter about all the suffering I had to endure, but now I feel more blessed than anything. I believe that God gave me a second family as well as a second chance at life. He showed me the way out of darkness and into the light.


EDITOR’S NOTE: The story above is true. While it may seem unique and quite unforgettable, this story actually reflects an unfortunate pattern for many children of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Due to the blood transfusion policies of the Watch Tower Society, many innocent and trusting children have needlessly lost their lives.

Like Anna, they are bombarded with unethical social influences forcing them to make health decisions based on Watch Tower policies that violate their basic human rights. We now share with you a poignant video on this topic, created recently by Marc Latham. We will let his words continue the story for others did not live to tell it themselves. Check it out at: http://youtu.be/-wkWuNTnPNI


Anna MacalusoAbout Anna Macaluso

Anna attended college at the University of Southern Indiana eight months after her first transplant. She graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Science of Nursing. Her first job was as an RN in the Transplant/Surgical ICU at Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis, IN. She currently lives in Cincinnati, OH with her fiancé and works as an RN Case Manager.

Anna enjoys reading, writing, traveling, random road trips, and going to art fairs and festivals. She wants to continue to write, maybe start her own blog and eventually publish a memoir.


Comments

Saving My Life With A Blood Transfusion — 53 Comments

  1. Anna, thank you so much for telling your story. You are, in my mind, a modern-day hero, who was willing to fight the tyranny of the Watchtower Society and one of its very flawed inhumane policies. And you won! Can’t get better than that. Hopefully, your story will help others do the same.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, I have had a handful of friends pass away due to not receiving a blood transfusion including a very close friend who had battle leukemia since childhood, it ended up killing him since the elders convinced him that receiving a bone marrow transplant would be the same as receiving a blood transfusion, one of the many things that made me question it all.

  3. Anna your story is very much appreciated. Those of us who have been removed from Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the depth of the pain you must have gone thru to save your own life. You are a very brave young woman and hopefully will live a very full, happy life. Blessings on you.

  4. Anna,
    Thank you for having the strength and courage to share your story. I know it will help so many people. Your drive and spirit is contagious. You’re extremely admirable and an example to all. I’m so proud of you. I love you.

    Carrie

    • Anna, you have been through many horrific and painful ordeals because of your two dreadful illnesses but one would never know it, because of your compassionate, loving nature. You are a daughter anyone would be proud to have and because of that I cannot imagine your parents wanting to be in a religion that would require them to let their beautiful daughter suffer and die over rediculous man made rules! I’m so glad you were rescued by your teacher in the nick of time! Then you kept going no matter how bad you felt and accomplished the goals you set for yourself and you did it in your wonderful selfless way. I love you and I’m so proud of you.

  5. Anna, it takes a lot of guts to stand up to your parents and to the WT, but you did it and it saved your life. Thanks for sharing your story, I know it will give courage to other young people as well. A big thank you to your teacher, too, who knew how to show unconditional love for another human who was suffering. All the best to both of you!

    • It’s sad to know how many people never know unconditional love, and that I didn’t know it until I was 17 and 18. It took me a long time to grasp the concept. I am so happy I could share with everyone

  6. Thank you, Anna, for sharing your story. It is quite chilling to think that a young person in a situation like yours is not able to overrule malign stupidity except by clandestine means. Very best wishes for your continuing health and career.

  7. Isn’t it amazing how many stories have cruelty from the WT, and love and support from those evil “worldly” people? While I know it goes on, it shocks me every time to hear or read it.
    I’m so glad you were able to recover, and have someone so caring to help you. Thank you for sharing your story.

  8. Anna, thank you for sharing your victorious experience. It is helping me get unhooked from the false mindset of refusing blood transfusions and questioning good and honest medicine and Yes! loving, caring people of “the world” . May many more who are suffering injustice, cruelty and life-taking policies of the Wachtower be saved to the life that is “REAL, NOW”.

  9. Oh, Anna, I knew there was a story but I never fully knew it. Thank God you got away from the cult. God Almighty never meant for you to die at the end of a cult-based decision. So many are deceived by various cuts; Watchtower only being one of many. You are precious. I saw that the first time we met:) I am so happy you are feeling better and that you have peace, dear girl. Love to you in abundance!

    • Anna, I’m so glad that you are here to share your story. Linda, her family and Doctor were absolutely wonderful and heroic !! And you were very courageous to take a stand and tell your parents you WOULD have a blood transfusion.

      The JW world is so skewed; believing a child who dies for refusing a life-saving blood transfusion is pleasing to God, rather than that child living!

      • Thank you, Rip. I appreciate all of your support. It means a great deal. It’s the support of people just like you that got me through this hard time. My teacher and her family truly were and continue to be my lifeline. Except now I call them mom and dad 🙂

    • Taygang07, it sounds like we know each other. Unfortunately, I don’t recognize your sign on name. But, I really appreciate your kind words! I’m happy that you took the time to read. I’m sure there are lots of people that never knew the whole story or were told misconstrued versions. My goal is just to get the truth out there!

  10. Anna.

    I could read this story over and over again. I’ll never forget those days/nights at USI talking about life lessons. Although we were 18 and nieve, we’d share stories and dreams. You taught me so much in so little time. I’ll never forget just wanting to rant about how bad life could be and what awful day I was having. I’d go to talk to you and you would be priming an IV bag of fluids and hanging it from a tac on the wall and getting ready for bed. It always made me realize how simple life can be and how not get worked up over the little things. I’m honored to call u my friend. My only regret these days is not talking to my friends enough. I am so proud of you! Anna you may not realize it but you come across my mind when I need you there most and give me a motivated boost when I need it. For that, I thank you.

    I friggin 😉 love u!

    Durb durb

    • I love you Durby Durb! You were such a rock for me as well. I always admired how hard you worked towards your goals and them did everything possible to accomplish them. Now look at you! I’m so incredibly proud to be able to call you my friend. I miss you a ton and wish we saw each other more, but I think of you all the time. I’m always here for you and I know you’ll always be there for me!

  11. Anna: Thank you for sharing your story. Recently I discussed many of these exact issues with Richard Kelly, Steven Hassan and other AJWRB board members. This is one area where I believe
    we can focus some energy and gain additional support from the medical community, sympathy from the general public, empower some JW families and adolescents and embarrass the WTS and create additional pressure on courts to intervene and protect JW adolescents. Your case illustrates how the introduction of outside influence can loosen the grip of the WTS over young ones and empower them to act in their own best interest.

    The WTS has been quite successful in convincing U.S. courts that kids should be allowed to decide for themselves. The truth of the matter is that they are under the influence of mind control, have been coached as to how to respond to doctors, lawyers and judges and that their brains have not sufficiently developed to understand what is happening to them. Two thirds of these kids will voluntarily choose not to be JWs when they grow up and we think they should be kept alive long enough to have that choice.

    I have had a long hiatus from the reins of AJWRB but I am back and ready push for change in this area. Two young sisters that I knew very well both died of leukemia after refusing blood. I was a pallbearers at ones funeral. If doctors, nurses, teachers and other concerned members of the public will take an interest as your teacher did – we can save lives. You’re story is proof of that. I sincerely hope you will consider working with us in focusing a bright light on this issue.

    Warmest regards,

    Lee Elder
    AJWRB

    • Lee,
      I wholeheartedly agree with you. I’m afraid to say, I’ve often questioned if my decision to accept blood would have been different if I were just a few years younger. I don’t know that I would have had the courage to stand up for what I truly wanted. But, you are also right about the support that is needed from the outside. The support I had from a teacher and her family made all the difference. It provided somewhere I could go where I knew I would have the love and support of ones that truly cared about my welfare.

      It breaks my heart and makes me sick to know how many children have died for this cause. Died a senseless death all because they had that intrinsic guilt drilled into them most likely from birth. I would love to be able to help on this matter. Please let me know anything that I can do to help.

  12. Thank you for your beautiful story. So nice to read something with a happy ending! My younger brother died of leukemia at the age of 4 in the midst of WT babble on blood. I was 10 at the time. That was hard, too, in its own way. Emotionally and intellectually, I think I left at 14 tho I don’t remember when I stopped attending. By 18 definitely as that’s when I left home, too. (40 years ago!) It’s quite a journey to find your own spiritual path or home or even a religion or church. I’ve meandered thru several at various times. (current favorite tidbits: “Who goes to church? Sinners” “Church is a good hospital for sinners”) I don’t see any JWs these days but when I do, I like to tell them that I could never join a religion that believes that if you had the power to save the life of your child, God wants you to let that child die instead. Children are a gift of God! (duh) 🙂 It give them pause sometimes. After all these years, I still do wonder what makes them tick. As a nurse, you might appreciate a wonderful book by another nurse (professor of nursing?) called “When Parents Say No” Alas, JW’s are not the only religion that puts children in danger in a medical crises. I, too, once needed a blood transfusion. I’ve always been happy to GIVE blood, so it was really nice to know that this was possible because someone else opened their heart (vein!) to save a life, just like mine. ps – check out http://www.drmcdougall.com to get your own health on the right track forever. Also http://www.hacres.com Thanks again and many wishes for a happy and wonderful future!

    • Diane, it sounds like you’ve had quite the journey yourself. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to lose your little brother at such a young age. I was just getting in deep with the religion at that age. It takes a lot of courage to walk away. Thank you for the suggested reads. I will definitely have to check those out.

  13. Yes – you were at the upper end of the “mature minor” spectrum and you had what amounts to an intervention or what Dr. Muramoto refers to as “non-interventional paternalism” that probably saved your life. I cannot tell you how happy I am to read your story. I have seen almost all of these cases end badly because of WTS indoctrination and duress from family, elders and HLC gestapo. I look forward to getting to know you better if possible. In the meantime, you might want to read these articles:

    http://jme.bmj.com/content/26/5/375.full

    http://jme.bmj.com/content/26/5/299.full

    Frankly, I had only thought of medical professionals making these types of interventions but your story clearly illustrates that other individuals like teachers may be able to make a huge difference in these situations. Very compelling stuff Anna!

    Lee Elder
    AJWRB

  14. I know all your family on your dad’s side…I know when I first heard about u being sick I prayed for u…I’m just glad that your teacher was there for u at that time and u got the help you needed….I talked to you in Shelbyville Last summer and it made my day to see you was doing so good……You are one strong young lady…Take care Thanks for putting your story out there for others to read

    • Thank you, Russell, you have always been a great guy. You always told my father how it was. My sisters and I always loved you…especially when you had your pizza shop! 🙂 It was really good seeing you last summer.

  15. I grew up a JW. I am no longer one. I understand the heartaches you endured. To have to have gone through that as well as being so sick…..
    I am glad you chose life and that it has now been good to you.

    • Thank you Alison. It’s nice to have people who actually understand. The JWs would like people to believe their lives would be desolate without that religion, but that’s far from the truth!

  16. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Anna. I’m sure, it will help many understand just how controlling and dangerous this cult is. I’m so glad you had a happy ending. Your experience reminds me a lot of my late husband’s life as he had a condition called Oesophageal Varices at the age of 9. He developed cirrhosis of the liver and had Hepatitis C and was constantly in and out of the hospital for one operation or another. He had his spleen and part of his stomach removed as well as many other procedures to try and stop the constant hemorrhaging but nothing really ever made a difference . I think, had he have been able to have had the blood transfusions he needed, he may still have been with us today. Sadly though, the medical interventions he was allowe, were not enough to save his life. His family weren’t JWs and could never understand why his religion allowed him to suffer so much throughout his life by refusing him transfusions. I wish he knew what I know now; that the truth is not the truth but a lie that robs people of their very lives.

    • I’m truly sorry to hear about your late husband. It’s outrageous how many people have died who might have been able to live a longer life with a simple blood transfusion. That’s why I just wanted to get my story out there so that maybe just maybe it could help others.

  17. Anna, what a truly amazing story! You followed your own heart and it has done you well. Do you remember the Awake magazine from May 22, 1994? I knew one of the three kids on the cover who died for not taking blood. While it has been looked at as the ultimate act of faith by those still active, can you imagine how those family members will feel when and if the WT changes it’s view to a more ‘current’ understanding on blood transfusions? As the years go by it becomes easier and easier to distinguish an act of fearfulness to men versus an act of faithfulness to one’s own truth. Bravo to you for showing others the way!

    • I do remember that Awake magazine. It’s such a shame how many kids have died because the this senseless policy of the Watchtower society. I can’t imagine how horrific it will be if and when the policy on blood transfusions change. But, once again the Watchtower Society will be non apologetic as they always are with things like this.

  18. Yeah I can’t imagine Jehovah being happy with people who allow their children to die. To me it is as if they are being sacrificed to the god Molech. How does Jehovah feel about that? The Bible says it was something that never came up in HIS heart. In other words HE never thought like that! So I can’t imagine Jehovah feeling happy that children die from refusing a medical procedure!

  19. Anna,
    Glad to hear the whole story and that you are ok. I’m sorry I wasn’t there supporting you through that and things that have happened since. It took me many mistakes through the years to figure my own life out after leaving the hall, and I regret being selfish and not helping you and others through tough times. Glad you are happy and doing well. You were always a hard worker and kind person.

  20. The Jews who we know follow all Gods laws sometimes to extreme.They accept blood on the basis of life is greater than law.One of there leading rabbi’s described it this way.he said even the Christian leader Jesus is on the record as saying that if a bull fell in the well on the sabbath is it right to disregard Gods law to save animal.we all know the conclusion.

Share your thoughts . . .