From Blood Recipient to Blood Donor: The Vincent Ulstad Story

A life changing accident kept this avid blood donor from giving back for seven years

FARGO, N.D. — Donating blood was a regular part of his life.

But after a major car accident, blood donations were needed to save him.

The accident left Vincent Ulstad blind, forcing him to make several adjustments.

But almost eight years later, he can make donating blood a regular part of his life again.

“I have absolutely no memory of that night,” said Vincent Ulstad, thinking back to June 2nd, 2009.

Ulstad was on the way home from a business trip near Jamestown.

“I was coming up behind a semi-truck that was kind of slowing down,” said Ulstad. “There was another driver that had gotten on the off-ramp and was heading west in the eastbound lanes. Because of the hill, I was unable to see the headlights coming at us.”

He got in a head on collision with a drunk driver.

Both were driving at about 75 miles per hour.

“My feet had become entangled in the foot pedals of the pickup and emergency responders actually had to cut the door off to get me out,” said Ulstad.

The driver died at the scene.

Ulstad was conscious when emergency responders arrived.

Once at the hospital, he began receiving blood.

“I received probably five to five and a half times the entire capacity of my system,” said Ulstad.

With broken bones and internal bleeding, doctors gave Ulstad a five percent chance of survival.

But he kept fighting.

“Even after the doctors realized I probably was going to survive, they started preparing my family for the inevitability that I would spend the rest of my life in a vegetative condition,” said Ulstad.

Ulstad was put in a medically induced coma.

Five weeks later, he slowly woke up.

“Of the five senses, the last one to lose in the death process for example, is hearing,” said Ulstad. “I’m guessing that hearing was the first of the senses that I regained. It was pitch black and it was just a very surreal experience. There was either a radio or a TV on in my hospital room. It was constant coverage of the news of the death of Michael Jackson. Pitch black, I’m hearing voices, some I recognize, some I’ve never heard before. I had no idea that five weeks had just flown by.”

The darkness never went away.

Ulstad was left permanently blind.

“To begin to grasp what had happened to my body and my vision, positive and certainly negative emotions just started washing over me like a tidal wave back and forth,” said Ulstad. “There are many things I’ve obviously had to adjust to. Things as simple as selecting your clothes for the day and doing things around the house.”

Before the accident, Ulstad was an avid blood donor.

“One of the first things I had that crossed my mind was will I be able to donate blood again,” said Ulstad.

For years, medical procedures kept him from donating blood.

But almost eight years after the accident, Ulstad found out he can.

Ulstad was taken off medication for previous infections allowing him to give back.

It’s a cause he’s passionate about, and something he’s always wanted to get back to.

“Human blood is so essential to the coursing of life, through our veins,” said Ulstad. “There’s nothing artificial, there’s nothing synthetic. It’s not like oil for your car. Life is in the blood.”

Ulstad went back to United Blood Services in Fargo, the place where he donated before the accident.

Staff volunteered to drive him there and help the donation process fit his needs.

Ulstad received 55 units of blood when he was being treated for his accident.

When you add up the grand total of blood donations he’s made over the past several years, this donation completes that 55th unit.

“I had up until the crash, eight years ago, donated one unit less than what I ultimately received in that course of events,” said Ulstad. “So today actually should get me back up to par.”

He hopes to keep going past the 55th unit, saying he will donate for as long he’s able to.

“I’m hoping I’ll set a few goals,” said Ulstad. “I have this absolute conviction that there is nothing that happens to any of us in life that is not allowed for some purpose. So I really enjoy the opportunity to get in and speak to groups and I’ve had many opportunities to do that. All decisions carry consequences. That is inescapable. But I think some of those that I enjoy the most are high school and college students. There’s so much potential in the lives that they have ahead of them. But I guess I’ve learned that busy-ness in life doesn’t necessarily equate to quality. There are some things that are eternal in nature and in value and in purpose and I think I’m getting a much better understanding and grasp of that right now.

When asked how he feels to have the needle back in his arm, he said it felt great.

“I’ve had a lot of needles in my arms over the course of the last eight years. No problem at all, no problem at all.
It’s kind of good to feel it again too.”

Ulstad is back in the Ag industry by helping research at NDSU.

He is also a member of the FM Safety Coalition.

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