If you have given blood at BPC in recent years, you’ve seen Judy Albert.
She has arrived sometimes before dawn to help the van from Inova Health System get situated. She has greeted you and helped you fill out paperwork, and she was probably the one who called you to get you there in the first place.
If you say something along the lines of, “Are you a retired nurse? I guess you have some connection with the healthcare field, given all the work you put into this,” you’ll be met with a little chuckle.
Nope, Judy says. Not even close.
The Pittsburgh-area native is private. She’d rather you see her as part of nature, which she loves. That explains the hiking photo.
But the part of her life that relates to blood she thinks is important to share. Because until you need it, or a loved one needs it, you may not understand, she said.
Judy’s own relationship to needles, tubes and platelets began in 2002.
An attorney with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Judy spent her days navigating the complicated waters of things like the relicensing of hydroelectric dams and turf wars surrounding tangles of electric grids.
When she wasn’t doing that, she was hiking, birding, or enjoying music, often with Luke, whom she met through a mutual friend and was with for 26 years.
When Luke started to feel unusually tired, his doctor told him he needed to take it easy and rest more. When he suddenly couldn’t climb stairs, Judy and Luke knew something was seriously wrong.
Aplastic anemia is a very rare blood disease; one’s body stops producing enough blood cells. Treatment is so specialized that Luke needed to receive care at the National Institutes of Health.
In the beginning, Judy tried to learn all she could about this cruel illness that seemed to be zapping the life from her loved one.
“But I would get on the Internet and I could only read a little bit at a time,” she said. “Then I would have to stop. It was too hard.”
Luke lived for 8 years with this illness, and he never went for more than 2 weeks without receiving a transfusion. When he received an infusion of red cells, “it was like he was Popeye,” Judy said. “Like he’d popped the spinach and was ready to go!”
Luke loved horses; he’d bought some more than a year before his diagnosis, and he would ride two or three times a week back then. When he got sick, he couldn’t ride much due to the risks involved with a potential fall. But he and Judy could still spend time tinkering in the garden, brushing his beloved animals, and taking short hikes.
Luke was alive in 2009 when Judy first saw a notice at BPC about the need for blood drive volunteers. The church had been hosting these drives for years, and it needed support. A table in the narthex, part of the church’s Mission Fair, caught her attention.
Judy decided to give back and sign up. And then, she was running the thing.
As Judy learned about the intricacies of managing a bloodmobile, her own life was being darkened by loss. Her twin brother died from a massive heart attack in 2009. Luke died in 2010. Her remaining brother died earlier this year.
So now she is thinking more about how to best support her father, who turns 94 this month and lives in Pennsylvania. She visits him often, and also likes to head out west, to beautiful towns where friends have retired.
And she is feeling ready to pass the bloodmobile baton, she said. Perhaps someone feels called to help, someone who has experienced as she did, the gift of life through blood.
“Those transfusions kept Luke alive and they gave him a life,” Judy said. “I was very, very grateful. For me, doing the bloodmobile was payback time.”