A Lifesaving Gift

Published: January 27th, 2014

Category: Patient Stories

In honor of National Blood Donor Month, we talked to Dona Ramey, who was inspired to regularly donate platelets after blood transfusions saved her son’s life during the 88 days he spent in the NICU at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.

Dona and Robbie

Dona Ramey with her son Robbie, 4.
Photo by: Jamie Greenspan

When Dona Ramey went in for a routine prenatal checkup, she was told something no mother wants to hear — at 28 weeks gestation, her baby was no longer growing.

She went to a nearby hospital in Ocala, where doctors discovered she was contracting. When the contractions could not be stopped, Dona was referred to UF Health Shands Hospital. It was there that she learned her baby’s heart rate was dropping and she would need an emergency caesarean section. Roberto “Robbie” Penullar was delivered weighing just 1 pound, 10 ounces, and measuring 13 inches long.

Because of his premature condition, Robbie was kept in the neonatal intensive care unit at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. When he wasn’t getting enough oxygen from his blood, his skin would turn grey until he was given a blood transfusion to bring him back to a healthy, pink tone. Throughout his 88 days in the NICU, he received four life-saving blood transfusions.

“I knew that with the blood transfusions there were risks,” Dona said. “But the risks were outweighed, because I was trying to do anything to get him better and improve his quality of life.”


Robbie in the NICU at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.

With the help of new blood, various medications and surgeries, and care from the NICU staff, Robbie was progressively growing and becoming stronger. When he underwent a surgery to remove two hernias, Dona came across a LifeSouth blood drive set up in the hospital. She had previously donated blood in high school, but decided after the experience with her son’s birth, she would donate right then and there.

“I thought of everything the blood transfusions were doing for Robbie and how he was improving — all from the generosity of people who donated blood,” she explained.

And it is that generosity that inspires Dona to continue giving. Every two weeks, she visits LifeSouth to donate apheresis platelets — a special kind of donation that lasts two hours and allows a specific part of the blood to be collected from the donor. It is her hope to provide patients the lifesaving gift her son received.


Photo by: Jamie Greenspan

Now, four years later, Robbie serves as a constant reminder of the kindness of donors. He is an active 4-year-old with no physical setbacks from his premature birth.

“He’s just a vibrant little fighter who is still a miracle to me to this day,” Dona said. “It was a lot to deal with his health and the blood transfusions, but words cannot describe how thankful I am for everyone who has donated, because there is so much good that comes out of it.”