Sharing the gift of life

Blood drive honors former HEA employee

Deanna Johnson Duck’s last wish was for a blood drive to help repay the Blood Bank of Alaska for the blood — and life — it gave her last fall.


This Thursday, the Blood Bank of Alaka’s LIFEmobile will be parked in the Kenai Safeway’s parking lot in Deanna’s honor.

Deanna died Nov. 13, 2010, from liver failure. She was bleeding constantly, a complication of a gastric bypass surgery done 10 years earlier, in San Diego, her mother, Chriss Johnson, said. In the last month and a half of her life, she needed 84 pints of blood to buy the doctors time while they looked for a solution to her bleeding. Had they found one, she would have been eligible for a liver transplant that could have saved her life.

Three days before Deanna died, she made Teresa Gamble promise to help make sure a blood drive would happen.

“She had to have so much blood,” Gamble said. “… It was just very, very important to her to give back.”

Gamble was Deanna’s coworker at Homer Electric Association. They worked together for about a year before Deanna’s health problems ramped up.

“She worked up in the front in the member services department and I worked directly for the (general manager),” Gamble said.

The two women connected from their different departments. Gamble said Deanna told her once she looked forward to seeing Gamble’s outfit every day.

Deanna loved all things girly, “which is why I think she said what she said to me. I’m girly too,” Gamble said.

When Deanna was in and out of Central Peninsula Hospital, where she received much of her treatment, the friendship continued.

“Anytime she was in the hospital, I visited,” Gamble said.

So on Nov. 10, 2010, Gamble sent an email to HEA’s human resources department about organizing the blood drive. The department made initial contact with the blood bank and helped connect Gamble with a representative there. For the last several months she’s worked with them to finalize a date and spread the word about the event.
Gamble said she was in touch with Deanna’s parents while planning the drive, and they kept her aprised of efforts to hold drives in her hometown.

The Johnson family moved to Kenai from Grays Harbor, Wash., in the 1990s. Deanna was 20, and followed her parents north. She stayed in touch with friends after the move, and one of her closest friends organized a blood drive for April 30, her birthday.

“I know that Deanna would be just tickled,” Johnson said of the planning that went into that event.

Her dad, Dave Johnson, flew down for the day, her mother said.

“They filled 24 slots and they will be doing it again annually,” Chriss Johnson said.

Gamble said HEA hopes the Kenai drive will be a regular fixture.

“We hope to do this annually as well,” Gamble said.

As of Monday afternoon, about 20 of 42 slots were remaining for the Thursday drive.

One of the donors is Diane Massengill, was a long-time friend of Deanna’s. When Deanna’s health issues became serious, Gamble said that Massengill stayed by her side and helped her with everything.

Massengill doesn’t regularly give blood. But she wants to participate Thursday to honor her friend’s memory.

“I may pass out, but I’m going to try,” Massengill said.

Massengill worked with Deanna for more than a decade, at two different places before they both wound up at Homer Electric, where Massengill still works.

Johnson said friends, like Massengill, were a treasure throughout her life, but particularly at the end of it.

“She had some really wonderful friends and at the end, they were just awesome,” she said.

Massengill said Deanna was always conscientious of people, and tried to make sure everyone was treated fairly.

That mindset bled into her last wish.

“She wanted a blood drive because she knew she had used a lot of blood,” Massengill said. “It was something that was important for her.”

Deanna’s legacy is more than just blood drives.

“She was really a very loving mom,” Johnson said.

Her two children, 13-year-old Jared and 7-year-old Delaney, are being raised by their grandparents, Deanna’s mom and dad.

“She taught both of them to watch musicals,” Johnson said. “She loved musicals.”

And Delaney is following in her mother’s footsteps and becoming a dancer.

“(Deanna) was, first and foremost, she would tell you she was a dancer,” Johnson said.

Deanna’s last dance recital was just months before giving birth to her daughter.

“We tell her she’s been dancing since before she was born,” Johnson said.

Someday, their grandparents will also talk to them about their mom’s last wish, that family and friends help restock the blood bank.

The blood, Johnson said, gave the family time together before Deanna died.

“Really and truly, it was a godsend to have that extra time and to prepare ourselves, too,” Johnson said.

The blood drive is from 8:30 to 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Safeway parking lot in Kenai. To make an appointment in advance, call 283-2332.

Molly Dischner can be reached at