James Hinchcliffe kicked himself over the 2015 crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that kept him out of most of last season, but not for the reason some might think.
The No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda driver was angry with himself because it took the 22 units of blood pumped into his body after the crash for him to realize the importance of encouraging others to give it.
“It's one of those things where I am really annoyed at myself – it took something like what happened to me for me to understand the problem,” Hinchcliffe said of the incident last May 18 when a suspension failure on his car sent him into the Turn 3 wall and a suspension piece pierced an artery in his thigh.
“You have to try and see the silver lining in these things and for me it was learning about the need for blood and how scarily short supplies sometimes are,” Hinchcliffe continued. “I don't want other people to have to go through something like I went through to come to the same conclusion. I've worked with the Red Cross already and I will do anything I can do to raise awareness about the issue and try to draw people into donating blood.”
While Hinchcliffe received roughly two times the normal body blood volume in the hours after his serious accident, there are often instances where nearly 100 units are needed to save one life.
It takes donors only about an hour to donate blood and give another has a chance at survival, which makes it time well-spent, Hinchcliffe insisted. To find a location to give blood in the United States, visit redcross.org/give-blood, or in Canada, visit blood.ca/en.
“It's not a one-to-one thing,” he said. “That's why it is so important for everyone to do it and as often as you can. In most cases, more than one unit is required because if you are at the point that you need blood, it's probably because you've lost more than one unit.”
After the accident, Hinchcliffe also set up a “Race to Recovery” website to help raise money for the Wound Clinic (traumapitcrew.org) at the IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. In the early days following his release from Methodist, Hinchcliffe visited its Wound Clinic every 48 hours to have his dressings changed and later he began his first physiotherapy sessions there.
Although the Wound Clinic played a huge role in his basic post-release medical care, it was the dedication of the staff and their willingness to go above and beyond that impressed Hinchcliffe most.
“That department is there for everybody and there are definitely cases where patients get more care than they are either covered for or can pay for,” said Hinchcliffe, who hails from Canada where almost all health care services are universal and free.
“They try to help everybody. Where I come from, that's the norm for me and I hate that it's not here, so every dollar that is raised for the Wound Clinic might allow it to help someone who couldn't otherwise afford it.”
While helping blood donation and the Wound Clinic recently became top of mind, Hinchcliffe has been actively helping one charity even before his name became recognizable: The Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia Foundation of Canada (wmfc.ca). There's also a strong personal connection. Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia is a rare form of cancer that struck Hinchcliffe's maternal grandfather, who died from it in 1999. The cancer, which can also be hereditary, affects the body's ability to produce blood cells and platelets.
At the time of his grandfather's diagnosis, there was almost no information or research being done on Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia, something that quickly changed after Hinchcliffe's mother, Arlene, got to work.
“My mother really took it upon herself to start investigating and raise money for research and medicines because it could affect her, her children and her grandchildren,” Hinchcliffe said. “Seeing how hard she worked for it and her passion about it was a pretty inspiring thing. I was still pretty young at the time, but it was awesome to see her desire to help raise awareness and money.”
Between 1,000 and 1,500 people in the United States annually are diagnosed with this rare form of cancer, which usually develops later in life.
Arlene Hinchcliffe was the force behind Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia Foundation of Canada being registered with the Canadian government as an officially recognized charity.
“It's a very personal campaign for my family,” the proud son said. “These things are usually tied to some sort of emotional connection from your past and for me it's no different both sides of the (U.S.-Canada) border.”
Hinchcliffe also lends his support to friend and former Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay's Racing For Cancer (racingforcancer.org). Hunter-Reay’s mother, Lydia, died in 2009, about 18 months after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Racing for Cancer will host one of its popular Yellow Party fundraisers in Indianapolis on May 26. For more information, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-yellow-party-tickets-21426166240?platform=hootsuite.
When Hunter-Reay asks for help raising money and awareness, Hinchcliffe is more than happy to answer the call. He served as a race instructor at an exclusive school day late last year at California's Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to benefit Racing for Cancer.
“We're a big family and big community and I would expect my friends in the community to do the same thing for me if that's what we needed,” Hinchcliffe said.
“We (drivers) all appreciate how lucky we are to be in the position we are in to get to do what we love and that just naturally elicits this desire to want to give back and help others. I think that's why you see so many professional athletes get involved with either their own charities or with other established ones.”