Morris Plains woman who inspired Morristown Onstage winner, shares journey, from blood donor to emergency recipient

Clockwise from top right: Kathy Bellias, Nicholas Yurek, Laura Bellias Yurek, Anna Grace Yurek, Jim Bellias, Ben Yurek.
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Editor’s note: In February, Anna Grace Yurek and her trio, Orion’s Belt, won the audience prize at Morristown Onstage with an inspiring performance of ‘Rise Up’  Here is the back story about Anna Grace’s inspiration.

By Nancy Verga

Growing up in Morris Plains, Laura Bellias Yurek assumed most people were frequent blood donors.

Her parents, Kathy and Jim Bellias, regularly donated at the Morris Area Community Blood Program drives in Morris Plains. For Kathy and Jim, this was an easy way to help others and to enjoy social time with neighbors.

Orion's Belt -- Charlotte Cama, Anna Grace Yurek and Julia Cama--at Morristown Onstage 2019. Photo by Katelyn Nagy
Orion’s Belt — Charlotte Cama, Anna Grace Yurek and Julia Cama–at Morristown Onstage 2019. Photo by Katelyn Nagy

Laura participated in her first blood drive while a student at Morristown High School, and continued to donate throughout high school and college. After studying abroad during the Mad Cow Disease outbreak, she became permanently ineligible to give blood.

Later, as a registered nurse on the open-heart unit at Morristown Medical Center, Laura administered and/or witnessed life-saving blood transfusions daily. It wasn’t until she started having seizures, in July of 2015, that her own health took a frightening turn.

“I learned that I was born with a tangle of blood vessels in my brain, called Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM),” says Laura.

A cerebral AVM typically goes undetected and frequently results in sudden death at age 30 or 40, when the vessels rupture. Laura’s doctors administered direct radiation to shrink the mass, but it wasn’t successful.

Several months after diagnosis, Laura suddenly felt like she was losing function in her right leg and couldn’t climb the stairs. She knew her brain was hemorrhaging.

“My partner and guardian angel, Kimberly Baird, was home and was able to get me into the car and to the emergency room.”

Laura underwent emergency open brain surgery to stop the bleed.  Two days later, a second surgery removed the AVM and temporarily removed a piece of her skull to alleviate post-operative swelling. All of this required several blood transfusions.

Today, Laura’s legs and right arm remain permanently paralyzed, although, she has confidence that she’ll eventually restore brain function. Despite her ongoing health struggles, Laura remains grateful for every day she has with her three children- Benjamin, 14;  Anna Grace, 13; and Nicholas, 11.

“It’s interesting, and also humbling, to see blood donation from all perspectives,” says Laura.

“From watching my mom give blood when I was young, to donating blood as a student at Morristown High School and Fairfield University, to being denied the option to donate after spending time abroad, to being the RN infusing much-needed blood donations at work. After receiving transfusions at age 37, it goes without saying that I support and encourage all people who are able to DONATE!”

The Morris Area Community Blood Program welcomes new and regular donors at the Morris Plains Presbyterian Church, 400 Speedwell Ave., Morris Plains. All drives are on Saturday mornings from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm. Upcoming blood drive dates: Aug. 3, 2019.

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