PINEHURST, N.C. - Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, was a regular day for 18-year-old Chase Fraley. The Union Pines High School graduate completed a full day's work at Ray's Plumbing and then went to a buddy's house to play video games. The next day was the opening day of deer season, and Chase, an avid outdoorsman who was recognized as snagging North Carolina's largest deer in 2018, was excited.
Later that evening, Chase's mom Heather Fraley got a call from one of Chase's friends. The kind of call that no parent wants. Chase had passed out in the bathroom. He regained consciousness but his speech didn't make any sense. Paramedics rushed Chase to the emergency department at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital. Heather and dad Travis met them there around 9 p.m.
"When we walked in, they were giving him CPR," said Heather, an inpatient physical therapist at Moore Regional Hospital. "A nurse was squeezing a bag of blood with all her might to get it into him. I'll never forget that image as long as I live."
Chase was bleeding internally. Surgeon Samuel Heathcote, M.D., performed emergency surgery to stop the bleeding and understand what was happening. Chase had two known conditions— an enlarged spleen and autoimmune hepatitis, liver inflammation that occurs when the body's immune system turns against its liver cells. Years ago, doctors had told him to avoid blows to the stomach.
Dr. Heathcote and colleagues removed the spleen and stabilized Chase, but he was still losing an unthinkable amount of blood. By 3 p.m. the next day, he had received 40 units of blood and was airlifted to UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill for additional care. "By the time he left Moore Regional on Saturday, he didn't have one drop of his original blood," said Heather. For reference, an average adult body contains 10 units (1.2 to 1.5 gallons) of blood.
Brian Bosworth, Chase's former boss at Ray's Plumbing, visited him on Sunday in Chapel Hill. "You don't find kids like Chase every day, the ones who really want to work," Brian said. He was headed out of town but promised Chase he'd visit the following Sunday.
With Brian as his role model, Chase was considering pursuing a plumber's license and got a near-perfect score on a practice test without studying. "Plumbing is about getting dirty and solving people's problems, and that was perfect for a good country boy like Chase," Brian said, adding that Chase's mission was to live life to the fullest. "It didn't matter if he was hunting or working; Chase gave it 110%."
The following Thursday, Oct. 21, Heather called Brian and other family and friends with awful news: Chase was brain dead. FirstHealth and UNC had done all they could possibly do. His body followed on Saturday, Oct. 23. Chase's death certificate said he died of a blunt force trauma to his abdomen. Heather thinks it's from the bathroom fall, a freak accident.
On his driver's license, Chase noted that he wanted to be an organ donor, so his heart and kidney now live on in someone else. "As we grieve, we also find comfort knowing that two families are celebrating and have a more positive outlook," said Heather.
Through their grief, Heather and Travis are newfound advocates for blood donation. "I've always known that blood donations are important but never valued it like I do now," said Heather. "Donating Chase's organs would not have been possible if FirstHealth hadn't been able to stabilize him and if there hadn't been enough donated blood for him."
"The need for blood is always high and never ends," said Elise Forest, administrative laboratory director at FirstHealth. She reported that the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a 62% drop in blood drives across American schools and colleges and a 10% drop in blood supply since March 2020. Recently, winter storms disrupted the blood donation and collection process.
Across FirstHealth's network of hospitals and Outpatient Cancer Center, the organization transfuses an average of 570 units of blood each month, or 18-19 per day. To put it in perspective, Chase's infusion of 40 units in 18 hours was more than two days' worth of a normal, systemwide distribution.
"We are so thankful for FirstHealth," said Heather. "They were so valiant in the emergency department. They were honest and upfront with us but gave it their all to make sure Chase was given every opportunity to survive."
Heather and Travis didn't know how to thank Moore Regional Hospital properly, so they decided to help generate what sustained Chase. With FirstHealth and OneBlood, they are coordinating blood drives on Wednesday, Apr. 27, in Pinehurst, Rockingham, Raeford and Troy. The blood drive’s goal is 40 units, the same amount Chase received. Participants are encouraged to wear green or camouflage to honor the fisherman and turkey, deer and duck hunter.
To participate in Chase's blood drive on Wednesday, Apr. 27, choose one of the options below:
- FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst (Whole Blood)
- FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst (Platelets)
- FirstHealth Fitness - Pinehurst
- FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital - Richmond
- FirstHealth Montgomery Memorial Hospital (Troy, N.C.)
- FirstHealth Fitness - Raeford
"At FirstHealth, we are so touched by the Fraleys' heartfelt desire to bring awareness to the importance of blood donation, to reach those who may not normally think to donate blood and to do this in Chase's memory," said Forest. "We are in awe of their strength and resilience and inspired by their tenacity to give back to their community in the face of such a tremendous loss for their family."
The Fraleys are also hosting a blood drive with OneBlood on Saturday, Apr. 30, at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carthage. To donate at this blood drive, go to the One Blood website and enter sponsor code 67077. For location type, make sure to select “Mobile Drive” only. People who can’t attend one of these events are encouraged to find additional blood drive dates, times and locations.
"I want people to value blood donation as equally as getting an annual medical check-up," Heather said. "We get our car oil changed, and we get our hair done. If we can make time for these, we need to make time to donate blood. It's fast, easy and saves lives."