Saving lives: Why John Shea has been donating his blood for nearly 50 years

Editor’s note: This year, the American Red Cross issued its first-ever blood crisis alert because blood supply remains at dangerously low levels. One of the people making a difference is Holland resident John Shea, who has been donating his blood for nearly half a century. He shares his Shore Story of his experience being a blood donor. 
 
Sometime in 1973, I saw that there was a blood drive scheduled at Shaw Hall on Michigan State University’s campus.  I vaguely recalled that some students “sold” their blood and went in to ask some questions. I learned that the American Red Cross does not pay donors, but that they have a great safety record and many decades of experience in collecting blood. 

Although I was disappointed at not getting paid, I was too embarrassed to leave, so I decided to give a unit on the spot. The process was fast and essentially painless. Although I had a typical vague fear of needles, the nurse or phlebotomist distracted me sufficiently and I hardly noticed the apparatus. 
 
As I was finishing up, they reminded me not to drink because there would be a much stronger reaction to alcohol. If I recall correctly, that proved to be true. 
 
Seeing the impact
 
Two months later, my phone rang and the Red Cross informed me I had the fairly rare blood type O-negative. They also advised me that this blood type is considered “universal“ in that it can be given directly to a recipient without knowing their blood type. In that same call, they asked if I could come in right away and donate for a baby at Sparrow Hospital! (How does one refuse?) 
 
After that, there was a call about every two months. One time, I was relaxing in the “canteen” after a donation and heard the helicopter blades chopping overhead. My blood was going off to an accident victim at another hospital. That was a real surprise!
 
I’ve tried repeatedly to encourage others to give blood or at least to try. Some people have legitimate and serious medical reasons not to give, but if not, I recommend that people try it. If it’s as easy as it has been for me, you’ll be glad you tried. I find the needle distasteful but not genuinely painful. 
 
Especially during the severe shortages caused by the Covid pandemic, giving this life-saving practice a try might be a wonderful way to give back to the community. 
 
Opportunities to give
 
Both the American Red Cross and Versiti (formerly Michigan Blood Services) have centers as well as mobile drives. A donor can give as often as every eight weeks. There is also a double donation system that puts back fluids and allows you to give two units. That one requires 16 weeks between donations. 
 
The process takes less than an hour if you make an online appointment. The phlebotomists are professional, pleasant, and experienced. I have never had an unpleasant experience with either firm.
 
I’ve now donated 176 units, or 22 gallons of blood, over the past 49 years. And I have no idea how much my blood has helped or how it has made a difference. I hope it has saved some lives.

I’m proud that my daughter, Jenny, is continuing the tradition. She has also been an active donor for several years. 

As the effects from the spread of the omicron variant and winter weather persist, people are urged to make an appointment now to give blood or platelets in the weeks ahead by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).