By Jerry Neece, SBC Platelet Donor
All the way through school, my teachers and parents always called me a “late bloomer.” While my friends got good grades, were accepted into good colleges, and excelled in other pursuits, I was always one of the last ones to “get it”.
I’m a late bloomer when it comes to blood donations as well, but at least I have an excuse for that. As an eight-year old in Southern California, I contracted typhoid fever, and was told, erroneously, that I would never be able to give. But thanks to a Stanford Blood Center (SBC) drive at Del Mar High School back in May, 2004, sponsored in conjunction with the West San Jose Kiwanis club, of which I am a proud member, my blood was tested and I was cleared to begin giving. After just five red blood cell donations, clinicians explained the benefits and joy of platelet donations, I made the switch, and I have never looked back. Giving to the maximum allowed by the FDA, twenty-four times per rolling year, has proven to be the single most rewarding volunteer experience of my life today.
Having retired from high-tech last year, I’ve thrown myself into volunteering to fill the vacuum that’s opened up when you’ve suddenly got 60 hours a week of your life back. I serve on several non-profit boards, plant trees for Our City Forest, prepare and serve food at Loaves & Fishes, drive my fellow Villager residents to their doctor’s appointments, and a lot of other projects. As important as these efforts are, nothing compares to the knowledge that in giving at SBC, I am actually helping to save people’s lives over the next 5-7 days (the shelf life of platelets). I’ve always been big on immediate satisfaction.
I’ve talked with other frequent donors about this and we all agree that we probably save more lives each month than the typical fireman or policeman, who get much more credit for their actions, do in year, or even a lifetime. But we don’t care. There’s a quiet satisfaction we all share in knowing the life-and-death difference we make in the lives of those anonymous recipients and their families and friends at the receiving end of our efforts.
As I encourage people to join me in donating, I’m often met by resistance. “Doesn’t it hurt when they stick the needle in?” they ask. Really, there’s so much scar tissue in the veins of my left arm now after nine years, I don’t feel a thing anymore. Or, to paraphrase what a fellow frequent donor Cindy once said, “When I think about the pain the recipient that needs these platelets is going through after something like chemotherapy, what is a little momentary discomfort for me in comparison?” A noble perspective.
If you enjoy being taken care of, like flying in first class on the airlines in the old days, then giving platelets is for you. From the minute you walk in the front door, until you’ve finished your required 15 minutes of replenishing your body with fresh-baked cookies, crackers, fruit and tasty juices (ask for POG), the staff and volunteers at SBC really go out of their way to make you feel appreciated.
Since retiring, I’ve actually been able to double my number of donations per year, and would encourage other retirees to do so as well. While working, giving platelets was a 2 1/2 hour respite from cell phones and emails where I could listen to music, read, or watch a recent movie. What is your boss going to say when you tell them you’re taking the rest of the afternoon off “to go save someone’s life this weekend.” I still do the same things now that I’m retired, but I think the staff will tell you that I’m much more relaxed when doing so.
April 18 is my 65th birthday (Medicare Day!) and I can think of no better way of spending it than making my milestone 100th donation that afternoon at the Mountain View center. Of course, there are fellow donors who have done over 500 platelet donations over their lifetimes, and I realize that I’ll never catch them. But that’s quite OK. They weren’t “late bloomers” like me.
If I’ve discovered one thing, it’s that it’s never too late to start donating and making a real difference in other people’s lives. And it brings such joy and satisfaction to mine.