I used to give blood. I even gave plasma once. I knew it was an easy way to do something good for other people, and I didn’t miss my precious fluids. Besides, I got free cookies and juice.
At some point, I stopped giving blood. I don’t really have a good reason for it. Laziness maybe. Or apathy. But I recently talked to a couple of people who reminded me why it’s so important.
If you live in North Raleigh and you want to give blood, Rex Blood Services on Blue Ridge Road may be one of the places you go to donate. It’s where Midtown resident Paul Watson goes, though he’s only been giving blood since 2012. That’s because something happened to him that brought home the importance of the act.
In June 2010, when Watson was 24 and had recently finished grad school, he received an unwelcome surprise. He had testicular cancer.
Rather than feeling angry at the ill-timing, Watson has a positive perspective about it all.
“I guess it was the best time in life, if I’m going to get it,” he said.
He was done with school and didn’t have a job. When else was he going to have so much free time to deal with a life-threatening illness?
During the course of his cancer treatment, Watson was given two pints of blood.
On Oct. 15, 2010, he went into remission. Two years to the day, he gave blood for the first time.
“I wanted to help people,” he said. “It’s really the best way I can say of giving of yourself. Because you actually are.”
Kathe Anderson of Wendell works with Rex Blood Services. She helps coordinate blood drives for them, and she, too, has a personal reason for pitching in.
She lost her 18-year-old son two years ago to a rare disease that required him to receive between 300 and 400 units of blood over five years.
Prior to that experience, blood donation wasn’t even on her radar. Her mother regularly gave blood, but it didn’t register for Anderson.
After her son died, she called Rex Blood Services to see how she could help, and she soon started coordinating blood drives. Last year, she arranged a drive on the one-year anniversary of her son’s death.
This year, she did it on what would have been his 20th birthday. And there are always first-timers who show up.
“They’ve heard my story and my son’s story and the only reason why they’re doing it is because of him,” Anderson said. “It’s an amazing feeling. They always say, ‘I just want you to know I’m doing this for you.’ ”
Ninety-five percent of Americans will need blood by the time they reach the age of 72, according to Margaret Windett-Sims, the department manager at Rex Blood Services. Meanwhile, 60 percent of the population is eligible to give blood, but only 5 percent actually does.
I asked Watson and Anderson why they think more people don’t give blood. They both said that fear is a big factor.
“I’ve talked to a lot of friends and tried to get them to donate with me – good people – but it always comes back to, ‘I’m afraid,’ ” Watson said.
Windett-Sims echoed that sentiment, but she said that when people see how easy it is to give, they’re more likely to keep doing it.
“I think we need to educate our donors, we need to educate our population,” she said.
Rex Blood Services does that by trying to get into high schools and teaching students about the process. Students are eligible to donate once they’re 17 if they weigh at least 110 pounds.
“We try to get them in early, and when they see how easy it is, most of the time they continue to do that,” she said.
But even if you’re 35, like me, it’s never too late to start giving. Watson says it’s worth it.
“We overcome so many fears throughout life that if this is something that people really care about ... I think it’s worth overcoming that fear,” he said.
Blood given at Rex Blood Services stays in North Carolina. And it’s not the only show in town. A reputable blood bank is only a Google search away.
Since the Ice Bucket Challenge is all the rage now, I figure I’ll challenge you to donate to a blood bank of your choice or dump a bucket of ice.
Forget it. No challenges. Just give blood.
Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.