From The ICU To Ironman: How One Car Crash Survivor Gives Back Every Day

“Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. Back in July of 2004, I was one of those people. And I don’t forget that."

Brian Boyle should be dead. A month after graduating high school, in July of 2004, Boyle was driving home from swim practice when a speeding truck crashed into the driver's side door of his car. His injuries were catastrophic.

"My heart went across my chest," Boyle, now 32 years old, recalled in an interview with A Plus. "I sustained shattered ribs, shattered my pelvis, had a collapsed lung. Pretty much every major organ was damaged or lacerated. I had about 60 percent blood loss and I was trapped inside my car at the accident's scene."

Boyle recovering in the hospital after his accident. 
Boyle recovering in the hospital after his accident.  Courtesy JoAnn Boyle.

The rescue squad and firefighters that managed to excavate Boyle from the car would receive awards for their efforts, but it was the availability of blood donations that ultimately saved his life. When he arrived at a local trauma center, Boyle was given the first of what would end up being 36 blood transfusions, 13 plasma treatments and 14 major operations. The medical team told his parents it'd be a miracle if he lasted 24 hours. They suggested soliciting final goodbyes from friends and family. 

But Boyle would fight. He survived the first 24 hours, then the first 48 hours, then the first week. He received more transfusions, more plasma treatments, and suddenly a month had gone by. Then it was two months. Boyle was in a medically induced coma,  hanging onto life by a thread. He remembers overhearing people talking in his hospital room and saying that there was a strong possibility he'd spend the rest of his life in a nursing home in a vegetative state. 

Then he blinked his eyes. He moved a hand, managed a smile. Day by day, Boyle began to recover.

"When I heard about how much blood I received, it really motivated me, it really impacted me," he said. "And I thought, 'wow, one day, if I ever leave here, leave the hospital and make a full recovery, I want to be able to go back and give something to my health care team, to my rescue squad, and be an advocate for blood donation.'"

And that's exactly what he did. 

Three years after leaving the Intensive Care Unit, Boyle was still feeling limited. He was back in the pool swimming, but he could only doggie paddle. He was out of the hospital, but his injuries were so bad that a sneeze or a cough could mean heading back out of an abundance of caution. But while trying his best to complete his college education, Boyle remembered a goal he had in high school: to complete an Ironman triathlon.

Boyle holding up medals from the races he has competed in. 
Boyle holding up medals from the races he has competed in.  Courtesy JoAnn Boyle

"It struck me in my third year of college that if I can do something like cross the finish line in such an extreme race, my healing will finally be complete," Boyle said.

Despite having little preparation for the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii, which consisted of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run, Boyle completed the race.

"When I got to Hawaii the endorphins kicked in, the gratitude kicked in," Boyle remembered. "After about 15 hours, on October 13, 2007, I remember just seeing my parents at the finish line, seeing the happiness in their faces and the breath of life I had crossing that finish line. It was one of those moments in life where everything just stopped."

During the race, and for every race he's participated in since then, Boyle has sported 36 little red crosses on his body to honor the blood donors that saved his life. After 10 years of volunteering for the American Red Cross, during which he promoted the importance of giving blood in speeches and at events across the country, Boyle began working with the Red Cross full-time.

"Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood," Boyle said. "Back in July of 2004, I was one of those people. And I don't forget that. When you go in there and you give that donation, whether it's your first time or your 100th donation, you're going to be able to impact somebody and save up to potentially three lives by that one hour of your time."

Boyle giving blood at a Red Cross blood donation center. 
Boyle giving blood at a Red Cross blood donation center.  Courtesy JoAnn Boyle

From June 11 to July 3, the Red Cross is campaigning for blood donations across the country. Donations are typically slow in the summertime: younger Americans who give blood at school or on campus are gone for the holidays, and lots of people are traveling for vacation. 

This year, the American Red Cross launched the #MissingTypes campaign, in which organizations drop the As, Bs, and Os from their logos to drive awareness of the importance of giving blood. A Plus is taking part in the initiative by shading out the "A" in our logo from June 11 to June 17.

Boyle is telling his story in hopes that he can encourage people who can donate to carve out an hour, overcome their fear of needles and consider the impact donating can have on someone else's life.

"I have goosebumps just thinking about the impact of that," he said. "The blood can go out to help people that are going through cancer having various treatments, car accident victims, sickle cell, or people who need blood to survive."

Boyle has been so moved by the mission of the Red Cross, and has benefitted so much from their cause, that he decided to memorialize the organization in one of the biggest ways imaginable.

"It's been a really special year because my wife and I had our first child," Boyle said. "We named her Clara, after the founder of Red Cross, Clara Barton."

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