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Red Cross losing long-term blood donors

July 02, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- As Ed Kisslak prepared Thursday to give his 232nd pint of blood to the American Red Cross what troubled the 74-year-old veteran was not how he would feel when the bag was full.

Nah, he's done this for 47 years.

What troubled him was the number of multi-gallon donors who might not be able to donate next time.

"What happens when we cannot give any more?" he said. "The Red Cross does not get that many first-time donors."

The Red Cross is losing its faithful, long-term donors to age and health problems, said Joe Stringent, a donor resources representative in Johnstown, Pa.

Donors like Kisslak, who has given 29 gallons of his blood, are few and far between, Stringent said.

In Franklin County, Kisslak is the leading donor, said Allen White Jr., emergency services director for the Franklin County, Pa., chapter of the American Red Cross.

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Kisslak started donating his blood in 1962 when a military buddy asked him to give his precious O-negative blood to help the man's daughter.

Telling the story filled Kisslak with emotion.

"I would have left it at that, but the girl's mom called me crying and -- just a minute," he said, pausing collecting himself. "This still gets to me. She said I may have saved her daughter's life."

Kisslak said he cannot remember the name of the little girl he helped save years ago but her story is on his mind every time he donates his blood.

Many multi-gallon donors started giving because of Kisslak, including his wife and daughter.

Unfortunately, not everyone can give blood, said May Blubaugh, a 54-year Red Cross volunteer.

Blubaugh began volunteering with the Red Cross after she was told she would never be able to give her blood due to a childhood illness.

Only about 13.9 percent of those able to give blood in Franklin County actually donate, White said.

While that number seems small, it is well above the national average of 5 percent, he said.

In the past, Kisslak said he has set goals for himself of the number of gallons he wants to donate.

Now his goal is to recruit new donors.

"If more people knew how important it was to donate, I know they would come out of the woodwork and give," he said. "But everyone has their priorities and giving blood is not often at the top."

Tom Reardon, executive director of the Franklin County chapter, said previously that according to the Red Cross, each unit of blood can save three lives.

Since helping to save his first life, Kisslak said he has donated as often as six times per year at blood drives all over the United States and in Europe.

And as long as he is healthy and able, Kisslak said the Red Cross can count on him donating his blood.

The Waynesboro American Legion Post 15 on Main Street in Waynesboro will host six blood drives this fiscal year. The next drive is Sept. 3 from noon to 6 p.m.

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