Paul Martin’s father taught him that life’s cruelest blows often prove to be blessings. That wisdom made him treat good fortune like an obligation, a reminder to do good in the world. Paul made his 225th lifetime blood donation and immediately erased the previous 224 from memory. “This one now is what’s important,” he said. As he sees it, it’s donation number one.
Paul’s father was born with polio to a large, working class family in New Hampshire. A bone surgery, radical for its time, enabled him to walk, but the family knew he would never be able to do physical labor. He was the first in his family to go college and he became an architect. Polio, he explained to Paul, was a blessing.
Paul became a blood donor in 1966. Why that year? “I had twin girls,” he said. “They were in the incubator, one stayed two weeks, the other five days. They were both under five pounds. I decided to donate blood. They went home and joined their other four siblings. Then we had one more.”
Paul’s father died the following year, and true to his philosophy, he considered even the disease that took his life as a blessing. Instead of a sudden illness, he had time to prepare for the end of life and be at peace.
Paul can remember donating when Community Blood Center (CBC) was in the basement of the Fidelity Building. “I would come on my bicycle to donate,” he said. “I carried the bike downstairs, chained it to the railing and would go to donate. Then I’d unchain it and carry it back upstairs. They’d say ‘No physical activity after donating,’ but we’d say ‘That’s OK. We’ll ride home.’ They’d say, ‘OK, but slow down a little!’”
Paul nearly lost life and limb in 1992. “I was on my way to work at Standard Register,” he said. “I was on my bicycle. I commuted back and forth. It was this time of year, the time change, and it was still dark that morning. The car didn’t have lights on and I didn’t see him.”
Paul always wore a hockey helmet when riding. His head wasn’t hurt, but his leg was badly damaged. “I was in surgery 10 or 12 hours,” he said. “The doctor said if you had done this in Europe, they would probably amputate your leg. In the U.S. we had the technology to save it and they put it all back together. Now I hike 10, 12 miles. And I still have a bike.”
But in the time immediately after surgery, his healing was touch and go. “They gave me a couple of units of blood,” he said. “I could feel the energy coming into me. I couldn’t walk for six months, and at first I couldn’t even move that leg. But after getting blood I felt even more dedicated. I’d rather give than receive.”
Paul was already a strong supporter of the regular CBC blood drives at Standard Register. He was a captain of a Life Leaders team and worked with Life Leaders founder Ward Freeze on the CBC advisory committee. He received the CBC Award of Distinction in 1991 and the plaque honoring him hangs on the Donor Café wall at the Dayton CBC.
“We had 15 Life Leaders teams there at one time in its hay day,” he said. “That kept me donating on a real regular basis. That motivated a lot of people to donate.”
In 1996 Paul’s routine as a donor was interrupted. A false positive test for the Hepatitis antibody required that he be deferred. “I think I was just under 16 gallons donated,” he said. He said CBC contacted him when the test was updated to test for the virus and in 2011 he was cleared to donate again.
“I started on this platelet stuff,” he said. “You can donate much more often, so I come down about every two weeks.”
On Thursday, March 21 he made his 225th donation, and he acknowledged the milestone in a way his father would have understood. “225 is just a number on a piece of paper,” he said. “That’s because that’s all gone, all 224. This one, this now, is what’s important.”