OWENSBORO, Ky. (KT) - Most parents celebrate their child’s birthday with a themed party, cake or balloons. Jill Pendergraft, a Kentucky Baptist, celebrated the weeks following her 6-year-old daughter Caroline’s birthday with an annual blood drive commemorating the moment Jill’s life was saved just six years ago.
On Saturday, Pendergraft worked with the Western Kentucky Regional Blood Center (WKRBC) to conduct a community blood drive at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Owensboro where she and her family faithfully serve. Now in its sixth year, the blood drive has become a way for her to help the WKRBC replenish its blood supply while reminding people what a life-saving gift blood donation can be.
“I had to get six bags of blood — it saved my life,” she said. “It is an outlet for us to share our story more — just to bring awareness to it.”
Pendergraft is referring to the incident that occurred on Jan. 1, 2014, just a few weeks after giving birth to Caroline. While running errands at Target with her husband and infant daughter, she began to hemorrhage. Her first instinct was to call her father, Robert Carter, who was on duty at the time as Battalion Chief for the Owensboro Fire Department.
“She called me from Target and said, ‘Dad, I’m bleeding. What do I do?’” Carter said. “I had light changers on my truck, so I beat the ambulance out there — it looked like a slaughterhouse inside.”
Jill underwent emergency surgery to stop the bleeding and received a total of six pints of blood during her three-day stay in the Intensive Care Unit . Over the years, her father has donated more than 75 gallons of his own blood to the WKRBC and is considered the No. 1 donor in Western Kentucky.
“Her dad happens to be our most giving donor,” said Vicki Ellis, director of donor resources for the WKRBC. “When you are the most giving donor, you never imagine that the person you are going to be saving is your child.”
After the trauma Pendergraft’s body experienced, she was told she would never be able to have any more children and was encouraged to have a hysterectomy. Two weeks prior to the scheduled procedure, she stood in front of her church congregation and shared her story, as well as her family’s decision to start the adoption process. The following day, she discovered she was pregnant with her second child.
During the first trimester of her pregnancy, each weekly ultrasound was accompanied by negative news concerning the probability of her baby surviving, and she was consistently told to prepare for a miscarriage. Then, at 22 weeks gestation, Pendergraft met a doctor who gave her some positive news.
“He said, ‘I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,’” she said. “‘The scar tissue is completely gone and the baby is completely normal.’ I said, ‘Do you believe in God? Because we do.’”
Elsia is now 2 years old and a happy, healthy toddler.
Despite having another healthy child to love, Jill and her husband Brannon were faithful to their promise that they would still offer a home to a child through adoption.
“God gives you a peace about things he calls you to do — we had a peace about adoption,” Pendergraft said. “He called me to do something and then said we’d have to wait to show us what it looks like. I had to let go of all of my control.”
In November 2019, the Pendergraft’s received a call that a Florida mother had chosen them to be the adoptive parents of her baby girl who was due in February 2020. As the couple prepared to once again welcome a little girl into their lives, they received another surprise on Thanksgiving Day when they were informed that the baby had been born prematurely, weighing just 2 pounds 2 ounces.
“We only had a week to prepare and had to make arrangements for our other two kids,” Pendergraft said.
She added that everything from plane tickets to places to stay had fallen into place as people from multiple states reached out to the couple and answered each and every prayer to make the adoption arrangements possible.
Pendergraft’s husband and girls joined her in Florida for Christmas and the family made the 18-hour drive back to Owensboro together the day prior to the blood drive.
“We came back to bring the girls back — it was perfect timing,” Jill said. “This has been scheduled for so long — I was excited I was going to be here for it. This is something we do now because of everything that was given to me.”