By Jim Early, 300-time blood donor
Above, Jim (with nurse, Raquel Morgia, sneaking in a smile) stands beside a quilt his wife made from his collection of SBC t-shirts.
When I was twenty-two I was sick with an intestinal disease. In a month’s time I went from healthy to hospital patient and for the next seven weeks I lived in the Old Hoover Pavilion Stanford Hospital. I ate nothing by mouth and instead received all my nutrition from IVs into my arms and eventually via a central line. A year later I was back again and after another three weeks opted for corrective surgery. After some major surgery, a few revisions, and many units of blood, (during and post op) I was healthy again. While being treated I thought very little about where the blood came from or who was giving it, I just wanted to feel better.
The example of some and invitations from others led me to give; never discount your example.
Fifteen years later while running a project, one of my critical contractors would take off every other Friday afternoon to donate blood. Initially he would say he had an appointment, but as our time together increased he fessed up about his penchant for platelet donations. We didn’t talk much more about it, but his example and my history with receiving blood products put a nagging reminder in my heart that I was here through the generosity of others. Six months later my sister Rhoda invited me to donate with her so she could get one of the “Donor Buddy” T-shirts. That was it! I was being called and away I went.
The process was great and much easier than my overactive imagination had thought it might be. At the end of it I got cookies and juice while others waited on me; I couldn’t have asked for more. I thought, “Gee that was easy, I could do that every couple of months.”
A few weeks later I received mail from the blood bank inviting me to be on their platelet team. Apparently I was CMV negative and had a high platelet count, making me the kind of donor they wanted for platelets. While I was growing up I was always one of the last picked for a team, so when they said they wanted me I jumped before they had a chance to change their minds.
The platelet donation process back then was always a two arm procedure where you couldn’t do anything for yourself while you were hooked up. Have an itch? Get the nurse’s attention; she’ll grab a piece of gauze and scratch your nose, or ear. I was hooked, it was helping others in a silent way that few others seemed to be willing to do. I could do it more frequently than just donating whole blood. Some people would ask me how I could stand to be hooked up for so long. For me, it was easy. At the end of the day the needles came out and I got to go home. After all, I had experienced the other side by being hooked up for seven weeks straight as a patient.
I’m thankful to Stanford Blood Center for what they’ve done for me.
In retrospect, I’m able to give blood and platelets because Stanford Blood Center did such a good job back in the early eighties when I needed blood. I received blood when AIDS was just becoming an epidemic and before there was mandatory screening or even any tests for AIDS. Stanford Blood Centers were on the cutting edge, instituting testing procedures, doing everything they could to maintain a safe blood supply. For their service I am forever grateful, as many others who received blood from other sources during the same time frame died from the very products that were meant to save them. That was 29 years ago.
Why do I still give and what drives me forward?
My first donation was fifteen years ago. Some 300 odd donations later I’m sometimes asked, “Why do I still do it and why do I jump at the opportunity when they call?” BECAUSE IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE FOR SOMEONE WHO NEEDS OUR HELP. Some days I donate platelets on a schedule and other days I get the call that there’s a critical shortage and they need platelets now. Whenever it is, I try to make the recipient a priority over my own desires. Occasionally I get an extra special call. I’ve had the extra privilege of doing three special white cell granulocyte donations for someone who is critically ill and the doctors have determined that without these special donations the outlook for the individual is very dismal.
I may never have the opportunity to save someone’s life from drowning or a fire, give CPR, pull them from a burning car, or any of the other oh-so-glamorous ways to save a person’s life; but that does not diminish the fact that my actions do save lives. I’ll take being a silent hero and saving many lives any day over fifteen minutes of fame. I may never know the person I’m helping, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need my help. It’s easy and they need our help.
P.S. You can even watch “Pay it Forward” during you donation. (That was supposed to be a guilt-inducing poke in the ribs for some of us.)