RALEIGH — When you met the late Sue Cross, one of the first questions she’d ask was whether you’d ever donated blood. If you said no, she’d pester you with such a relentless force that you’d soon find yourself squeezing a rubber ball with a needle in your arm.
Over the past 10 years, Cross corralled enough donors to Rex Blood Services for 6,800 people to get transfusions. She donated her own blood 29 times, her platelets on an additional 16 occasions.
So it was poetic justice, her family said, that Cross herself received 28 units of blood last November – not enough to save her life, but enough to remind her family where donations go.
And on Wednesday, one day after what would have been her 58th birthday, they sat down at Rex together and each gave a pint.
“She’d be smiling today, I can tell you that,” said her husband, Robbie. “She would say, ‘I told you it wasn’t bad.’ ”
On average, Rex collects 1,550 units of blood each month. January, July and August are the three slowest months for donations. Colds and flu foil winter giving. Vacations and holidays make the summers difficult.
But, Brian Cadwallader, client representative for UNC Health Care, stressed, “There’s never really a high time. We’re always needing blood.”
Cross was walking her dog in Atlantic Beach in November when a tractor-trailer struck her while making a right turn. She was rushed to Carteret General Hospital in Morehead City, then air-lifted to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, where she died.
Police charged the truck driver from Clinton with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle.
Cross’ death came only six months after she retired after 34 years working at N.C. State University, the last of them in the Centennial Campus Partnership Office. There, she organized bloodmobile visits, mammography screenings and vascular checks, winning Rex’s blood drive coordinator of the year award in 2005.
You couldn’t say no
Cross held drives on Centennial Campus every eight weeks, Cadwallader said. If he gave her a call, she could turn 40 donors into 75. You couldn’t say no once she button-holed you.
“A lot of people just followed what she did because she was so joyous,” said her daughter, Erin Gross, 32. “She would say, ‘It takes 15 minutes and you’re saving a life. Just one donation could make the difference between someone surviving or not.’ ”
Nationally, about 4.5 million Americans will need a blood transfusion this year, according to the Community Blood Center of the Carolinas. About 37 percent of the U.S. population can donate blood, but only 5 percent do.
“We come up with every excuse,” Robbie Cross said.
‘Never took the time’
His wife would urge him, too. But he said he was always busy with work and children, so he never followed her.
“I’m not scared of needles,” he said. “I just never took the time.”
So on Wednesday, he took a chair in the center of the row at Rex, rolling up the sleeve on his right arm . His son Travis, 29, took the chair on one side, and his daughter, Erin, took the one on the other side. For each of Cross’ children, it was only the second donation.
“I used to think it was a big thing,” said Gross, her daughter. “It’s not. You don’t feel anything. You could go to sleep.”
“Feels good,” Travis said. “Like it means something. We should have been here with my mother.”
Two of Cross’ nieces also came Wednesday. But they’d been on a cruise that stopped in Belize. Those who have traveled there can’t give at Rex for a year.
Cross’ husband, son and daughter made plans to come back to Rex on May 1, when they’re eligible to donate again.
They hope to see you there.