As you see so often in the automated donation area of Community Blood Center (CBC) branches and blood drives, apheresis donors form a special band of brothers and sisters. Apheresis allows them to donate more frequently and compels them to spend more time in the donation process. Their paths often cross, and it’s natural for them to become a community.
An incredible representation of that community came together Friday, March 15 in the Dayton CBC Donor Room. Bert Jones of Dayton, ranked third among CBC’s active donors, arrived for his apheresis appointment and made his major milestone 500th donation.
Staff member used colorful strips of Coban bandage to inscribe “500” on the wall above Bert’s head, provoking kind words and congratulations from his fellow donors. This was truly Bert’s day, but he was in extraordinary company.
Judy LaMusga had just finished her 378th lifetime donation, and stopped by Bert’s apheresis bed to chat. To Bert’s right, Al Mescher of Troy was making donation number 232. On Bert’s left, Glenn Stoops of Oakwood was on donation number 210. Down the line, it was Terry Krug of Centerville with his 112th lifetime donation and Paul Hawvermale of Brookville with his 135th.
Collectively they represented an astonishing 1,567 lifetime blood donations.
“I’ve been humbled! I am a nobody!” joked Al Mescher, who built his 232 milestone donating six times a year at GM plant mobile blood drives, then becoming an apheresis donor. “I bow to you Bert!” kidded Glenn Stoops as he finished his 210th. “It’s a pleasure to be in your company!”
Despite their good humor and kind support, no one was more humbled than Bert Jones. “Doing this is very important,” he said.
His journey to 500 began when he first donated in his hometown of Louisville, KY. After moving to Dayton he and a business partner would occasionally make whole blood donations together. “I’ve been donating ‘seriously’ for about 20 years,” he said, “Apheresis, close to 15 years. The more I came, the more I came. It started to become a mission for me.”
Bert can point to specific moments of clarity that motivated him to deepen his commitment to blood donations. First, it was the awareness that only a fraction of the eligible population donate, yet one in seven who enter a hospital will need blood. “That’s when it first hit me,” he said. “This is really important, I need to do this.”
The next revelation came through a very personal experience. A neighbor’s eldest son, about Bert’s age, was battling an immune system disease. “Every time I asked about him, he was in the hospital getting transfusions,” said Bert. Bert offered to donate whenever the neighbor’s son needed blood, symbolically “replacing” units of blood he received, as a show of support.
One night, the son called to thank him, and broke down in tears. Bert consoled him by saying, “The way I look at it, it’s not my blood alone. I get to use it for a while. If I can do this, I will. That’s always meant a lot to me.”
Then on another night came a very different phone call. “The blood center is on the phone,” Bert’s wife told him. His reply was to tell CBC he would be there first thing in the morning. “No, they want you now,” she said.
Bert arrived at CBC within a half hour. “This must be really important?” he assumed, and he was right. Granulocytes, a category of white blood cells, were needed for an infant in intensive care. Bert was aware that his blood is CMC-negative (negative for cytomegalovirus), vital for infant transfusions.
“They said if it was an adult, they would probably wait for the next morning, but we don’t wait for infants,” he recalled. “I never knew who the child was. But it made it more and more important to me over the years.”
Consequently, Bert has raised the bar, pushing himself to be the best donor he can be. Most of his apheresis donations over the years have been double-platelets and often include plasma. He believes he was one of the first apheresis CBC donors to complete the maximum 24 donations in a year. He even questioned his doctor about undergoing a necessary surgery if it meant he might not be able to donate as often. The compromise was that he might no longer do whole blood donations, but could continue to donate his rich supply of platelets.
In the community of apheresis donors, everyone is on a journey to help others. Bert Jones learned long ago his journey had become a personal mission. His 500th LTD milestone is merely a reminder of his calling, “The more I came, the more I came.”