This past Thursday, I was a blood donor at the Red Cross Blood Drive at St. Mary, Mother of the Church, Catholic parish on Vandora Springs Road. Blood is a precious commodity, and giving it is not for the faint of heart. Whenever I give a pint of my life blood I tease the Red Cross staff, calling them “Blood Suckers” and “Count (or Countess) Draculas.”
I also say, “I’d rather go to jail than give blood.” That being said, I do it anyway because I am blessed with a healthy body, and I know from my volunteering at Wake Med that blood is what saves people’s lives during trauma. When the Red Cross folks say: “Give Blood – Save a Life,” they mean it.
Last year I e-mailed the Red Cross, asking how much blood I have collectively given over the years, and they told me I was right at four gallons. I was self-impressed ... that is until I spoke with my friend, Terry Duff, who has lived in Garner for 21 years and attends St. Mary.
I knew Duff was a serious blood donor. He often wears Red Cross T-shirts, and he has a Red Cross “Super Donor” medallion on his key chain that guarantees his keys, if ever lost, will be returned to him thanks to the Red Cross serial number on the medallion.
So, what is the total amount of blood you have given? I asked Duff: “Just a shade less than 30,” he said. That’s gallons – not pints! In more than 50 years of donating blood, Duff, 69, said he has gone to the Red Cross faithfully, usually every eight weeks (the time period the Red Cross requires between donations) to give up another pint of his B-positive blood.
To give some perspective to Duff’s level of commitment, he estimates he has donated blood about 240 times. Since a pint of blood weighs a little more than a pound, that means he has donated more than 250 pounds of blood over a half century.
Ironically, Duff does not donate at St. Mary’s Blood Drive, which is held three times a year. Because he gives every eight weeks like clockwork, he has to go to Red Cross headquarters in Raleigh to donate on his schedule, which usually happens on what he calls, “My donation Thursdays.”
Duff says his faith in God is a primary motivating factor inspiring his commitment to donate so much blood, and he likes the fact that his blood is given to anyone who needs it, and it’s anonymous, which means he gets no credit for it – except from God.
“First of all I consider myself extremely lucky,” Duff said. “God blessed me to do it; I’m able physically to do it. And there’s no preference, if they need my blood, they get it.”
Duff also has a personal reason that inspires his blood donations. At birth, Terry was “a blue baby,” because “oxygen didn’t get into my blood, and I had a transfusion,” Duff said. “So somebody donated blood so I could be alive. So that’s the particular reason that blood is high on my list to make sure that I donate.”
As a teenager, he had less altruistic reasons for donating blood. In his native Philadelphia, Duff used to make blood donations to a local blood center and get paid $1 a pint. He would lie about his age, and he didn’t even have to show I.D., he said.
“You’d just go and say you’re 18, and they took your blood,” Duff said. He also gave blood as a college student at Drexel University, where he earned bachelor degrees in physics and math. While in the Army, Duff gave blood, and he would “get out of some duties” as a reward for donating, but he didn’t start his actual donation count until he began giving (for free) to the Red Cross at the North Jersey Blood Bank in 1972.
Duff’s wife, Donna, is a cancer survivor, and can’t donate her blood, but the couple’s daughter, Erin, is a blood donor.
At St. Mary, Petre Ann Mondolfi has been the Blood Drive Coordinator since 2012, but the drive has been going on at the church for more than 20 years, she said. At each drive, she relies on about a dozen volunteers – Terry Duff is one of them – to help her run the four-hour drive. St. Mary has averaged more than 50 pints collected per drive, she said.
“You feel a gratification when you’re doing it, because not only are you involved with people who do give blood, but you feel gratified that you helped,” she said. “At the end of the day you really are gratified by the fact that there might be some way, some how you helped somebody, somewhere.”
“I want nothing from this,” Mondolfi said. “I want to recognize the donors because they’re the people who have to give up their time from their families, from their work. They come and make the commitment.”
Mondolfi said she is especially thankful for her first-time donors, and she hopes they’ll keep coming back. She always notifies Red Cross staff of first-time donors so they are treated with kid gloves.
“I’m very protective of any first-time donors,” Mondolfi said. “I don’t want them to have bad a experience.”
According to medical studies, donating blood is also good for you, lowering a person’s risk for heart attacks and strokes. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association said participants from age 43 to 61 had fewer heart attacks and strokes when they donated blood every six months.
“It’s beneficial to your body to give blood,” Mondolfi said.
At 30 gallons of blood donated, Duff says he will still fall short of his goal of donating 50 gallons. “By the time I get to 80 years old, I’ll only be in the 40-gallon range. I didn’t quite make it.”
Here’s how to give
▪ St. Mary's next blood drive will be Thursday, May 25 from 3 to 7 p.m. The church is located at 1008 Vandora Springs Road, Garner. For more information, contact Petre Ann Mondolfi at (919) 773-0867 or by text at (919) 632-0514.
▪ The Garner Senior Center also hosts two or three blood drives each year. The Red Cross is interested in extending its reach within the community, and invites businesses and other organizations to begin hosting blood drives.