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"I'm Alive Because People Care, Because People Donate Blood"

Image of Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He survived his injuries thanks to the donated blood he received at a hospital in Kandahar. (Photo: Courtesy of the Travis Mills Foundation). Retired Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to have survived his injuries, largely thanks to the donated blood he received in a hospital in Kandahar.

In April 2012, a “normal day at work turned ugly” for Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills. He and members of his paratrooper battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division were on routine patrol in Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device went off. 

He remembers regaining consciousness a few seconds later and hearing his medic call out for help to place tourniquets on his legs and arms. 

“I knew I was hit,” he said. 

“I lifted my left arm and saw it was kind of tattered up pretty good.” 

When he saw his hand, he knew it wasn’t good. He wondered if he would ever see his baby girl again. 

Mills lost a lot of blood that day. Without a massive infusion of new blood, he said, he probably would not have made it home. 

“I’m alive because people care, because people donate blood,” Mills said. “And without the blood given to the Armed Services Blood Program, I would not be able to stand here and tell you about how important it is.” 

Mills, now 35 and a father of two, lives in Maine. He is one of only five quadruple amputees to survive injuries from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

‘Fearless in a gun fight’ 

“My job was the military,” said Mills. “I loved it. Working with soldiers every day, doing my job was the greatest for me.” 

He was on his third deployment. And coming home to his wife and little girl completed his dream life. 

“I had a really good life mapped out,” he said. “I was really doing well.” 

Mills’ father, Dennis, said military service was what his son was meant to do. He recalls Travis as an energetic, motivated, active, and friendly kid growing up in Vassar, Michigan.  

At 6 foot 3 inches tall, Mills was strong and excelled in sports. He was goofy and loved to tease his younger brother, and he always stuck up for the underdogs, Dennis said. 

Soon after starting community college, he realized his heart was somewhere else. He enlisted in the Army, never looking back. 

“You could see the joy in his face,” his father recalled. 

He excelled in the Army. 

“Travis’ leadership ability is like the guys that you see in movies, that people don’t think really exist,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Josh Buck, Mills’ friend, teammate, and brother-in-law. 

“He’s the guy that when you’re getting shot at, you would love him next to you no matter what, because he’s fearless in a gun fight.” 

Life-saving Blood 

Army Sgt. First Class Alexander Voyce, one of the medics in Mills’ unit who treated him at the scene of the blast, recalled seeing him after the injuries. 

“It was really amazing seeing someone who had just lost all four limbs in such high spirits,” Voyce said. “Knowing him from before, that’s just his demeanor, that was just him.” 

Immediately after Mills’ injury, medics placed tourniquets around his limbs. They reassured him that he would be okay. 

“Shut up, I know,” Mills responded at the time. 

At a hospital in Kandahar, Mills needed blood – lots of it. 

The IED blast had injured him so severely that doctors amputated portions of both of his arms and legs at the hospital. 

“They used over 400 units of blood, which, at the time, was the most blood ever given,” Mills said. “The blood bank at the hospital in Kandahar ran out of blood that day, and people had to rush to donate positive and universal blood to keep me alive.” 

The blood went straight from donors’ veins to his. 

In order for a patient to safely and effectively receive a blood transfusion, the blood type must either be a direct match to the patient’s specific blood type, or it must be “O negative” blood, which is a blood type that is considered “universal” because it can be safely administered to anyone regardless of their specific blood type. 

Never Give Up. Never Quit. 

Mills set a goal for himself and his care team at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland to leave the hospital within ten months. 

“If I give up, I’m giving up on more than just myself,” he said. “I’d be giving up on my family.” 

And he wouldn’t do that. He needed to go take care of his wife and daughter. 

“[Kelsey] and Chloe know that I’m gonna be fine, that they got nothing to worry about,” said Mills. “Every day is a challenge, but it’s not a challenge you can’t overcome.” 

Mills’ father recalled getting his son back. “Travis came back as Travis so quick, that he tormented me, we tormented each other just like we used to before he left,” his dad said. 

“I forget that he doesn’t have arms and legs, because he does so well,” Mills’ mother, Cheri, said. 

“He’s still the same person and he can still laugh about life.” 

Within five months, as Mills got used to his prosthetic legs, he completed a five-kilometer run in New York City. 

“Travis was meant to lead and help people,” said Army Spc. Brandon Fessey, who was also with him during the blast. “He faces obstacles, and he doesn’t let anything stop him.” 

In 2013, Mills founded a nonprofit organization to benefit and assist wounded and injured vets and their families. He also speaks throughout the country encouraging others to persevere through life’s unexpected challenges and hold on to the motto: Never give up. Never quit.  

He often speaks about the critical role that the military’s blood program played in saving his life. 

“I hope you will donate your blood, give back to the community, and make sure that you can keep people alive and going forward in life,” he said. “Your donation of blood does matter.”

How Blood Saved my Life: Travis Mills' Story

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Last Updated: July 11, 2023
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