Canadian woman, 21, lost mobility in arm due to rare mishap when donating blood

The rare act of puncturing her artery instead of her vein completely changed her life.

Jane Zhang | November 21, 2020, 10:45 PM

Donating blood can be a meaningful way to give back to the community in an impactful way.

For one woman in Ontario, Canada, giving blood ended up completely changing her life, and not in a good way.

Medical staff said "whoops" when putting in needle

Four years ago, then-17-year-old Gabriella Ekman went to a blood drive hosted by Canadian Blood Services to donate blood for the first time, Canadian news network CTV News reported.

Ekman said that during the visit, the phlebotomist — the medical staff trained to draw blood — said "whoops" when she put the needle into Ekman's arm.

She also noted that the employees at the blood drive commented on how oxygenated Ekman's blood appeared, which could be an indication that the blood was from an artery rather than a vein.

Blood donation is meant to be taken through the veins rather than arteries, according to the World Health Organisation's (WHO) guidelines.

Puncturing an artery generally only happens to one in 30,000 to 50,000 people and can result in late complications.

After about 10 to 15 minutes, Ekman began to feel something wasn't right, but she had never given blood before so she wasn't sure what to expect.

Ekman then told one of the women working at the drive about the discomfort in her arm, and she was told to go to the hospital.

However, Ekman told CTV News that she was sent home after doctors at the hospital were unable to determine that anything was wrong.

Arm began to swell and bruise

In the weeks following, though, Ekman's arm swelled up, became sore, and developed bruising from her wrist and shoulder, to the point where she couldn't straighten it anymore.

Photo via CTV News.

By the time she got to the hospital, she was told that it was an emergency life-saving situation.

A vascular specialist determined that Ekman was indeed bleeding from an artery in her arm, confirming that the blood must have been drawn from her artery instead of her vein.

She underwent surgery to stop the bleeding, remove a blood clot, and repair the hole in her artery.

However, her life didn't go back to normal.

Even after the bleeding stopped, Ekman continued to experience "indescribable pain" in her arm, which didn't go away even after several more procedures and multiple rounds of physiotherapy.

“My pain never ever went away and I never got the mobility back in my arm. I never got it back in my wrist or my hand,” she told CTV News.

Doctors have since diagnosed her with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a form of chronic pain that typically affects an arm or leg after a traumatic injury, Ekman said.

Ekman now has to wear a brace almost all of the time, as it no longer is able to physically straighten.

Photo via CTV News.

"It's ruined my life"

Ekman, now 21, said that her life has been completely changed.

Prior to donating blood, Ekman planned to move away for university after receiving a full scholarship.

However, due to the loss of mobility in her arm, instead of moving away for college, she instead attends community college nearby, in order to live at home, as she is dependent on her mother to help with everyday tasks.

She also told CTV News that she struggled with her schoolwork because of her chronic pain.

She said:

"It feels like it's ruined my life, it's taken away my future. I can't look in the mirror without thinking about how much I've been hurt and how my future feels like it's being taken away from me from trying to give life to other people."

She has also had to receive treatment for PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

Seeking financial compensation from Canadian Blood Services

Ekman said that she does not want her story to deter others from donating blood, but that she wants people to be aware of potential risks:

"I believe people should donate blood.

[...] But it shouldn't cost you everything that you have… it shouldn't take away your independence, your confidence, it shouldn't destroy your future."

She is seeking financial compensation from Canadian Blood Services to help with her life-care costs, so that she won't need to depend on her mother for the rest of her life.

Ekman told CTV News that the nonprofit organisation cancelled mediation talks with her on three occasions.

Delphine Denis, the manager of media relations for Canadian Blood Services, told CTV News in a statement that because the matter is in litigation, the organisation has only communicated with Ekman through her legal counsel.

Denis said that they acknowledge Ekman's frustration and have expressed their concern for her well-being, but are unable to comment further on Ekman's claim.

Denis also emphasised that the risk of injury from donating blood is "very low", and that hundreds of thousands of Canadians donate safely every year.

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Top photos via CTV News.