What’s Up South Texas!: Aspiring chef hopes to inspire others to become blood donors

Naomi Hennesey wasn’t expected to live past the age of 14, but she defied all odds

SAN ANTONIO – An aspiring chef diagnosed with a rare blood disorder is hoping her story encourages others to become blood donors in the community.

Naomi Hennesey, 19, has Thalassemia, an autoimmune blood disorder that prevents her from making red blood cells.

“I need to get units of blood every three weeks,” Naomi Hennesey said. “Sometimes when I am really low, I need three units, but when I am better, I need two.”

“I have seen what she is like to be low on blood,” said Annette Hennesey, her mother. “I know what it is like when she needs blood now. Her energy is real low and she is not as happy as the little girl I am used to having around the house.”

Annette adopted Naomi from China when she was 10-years-old.

Despite being told about Naomi’s condition, Annette said it was a no-brainer that she was her daughter.

“Her orphanage director, after she introduced us and we were talking and happy, she pulled me to the side and explained to me that my daughter was going to die and if I really wanted to go through with this adoption because they had never seen someone with her diagnosis live past the age 14,” Annette said. “Spoiler, she is 19-years-old now and she isn’t dying anytime soon. She is fine. But it is because they don’t have a good blood supply in China.”

Before coming to America, Naomi received only a few units of blood each year.

Afterward, she now receives at least 40 units of blood each year.

The family said they are beyond grateful for the South Texas Tissue and Blood Center.

“The fact that those units are always ready and on the shelves, and have been donated by wonderful healthy people, we are incredibly grateful,” Annette said.

Annette was inspired by her daughter to become a repeat donor.

“I have to donate,” she said. “I have to donate for her. I have to donate for the guy down the street who has cancer. I have to donate for the girl around the corner with sickle cell anemia. Someone needs that blood. Someone was in a car accident or had a horrible surgery. Somebody is going to need that blood.”

By the end of the year, Naomi would have received up to 300 blood transfusions.

She is now a culinary arts student attending St. Phillips Alamo College.

“I love cooking,” Naomi said. “My dad and I are always cooking in the kitchen. When I get my degree, I want to work in a hotel as a chef and then work my way up to higher positions.”

The family said they know all too well what it is like when there is a blood shortage.

“There have been scary moments and there have been days when we get to the hospital and there aren’t three units available and we just have to hope while we are waiting that someone else will have a unit that is processed and ready,” Annette said.

They hope their story encourages others to take time to donate blood when they can.

“Each unit is going to help someone,” Naomi said. “It would help me. Even if it is a small bit, it can help a baby. It will help someone.”

“You never know who is going to need blood and when they will need it,” Annette said.

More on KSAT:

What’s Up South Texas!: Cibolo business feeds hundreds during pandemic through pay-it-forward program

About the Authors:

Japhanie Gray is a reporter with KSAT12 News.