136 And Counting: Falmouth Blood Donor Saves Lives One Pint At A Time
By: Christopher Kazarian
Last Wednesday afternoon, Theodore C. Clements lay on a makeshift bed in the middle of a function room at the Holiday Inn staring at the ceiling above.
“Can you tell me your date of birth,” Deanna Place, a collection specialist with the American Red Cross, asked.
“June 16, 1925,” Mr. Clements replied.
“My birthday was yesterday,” Ms. Place said. “We are both Geminis.”
Just over a week ago Mr. Clements had celebrated his 87th birthday at his son Douglas C. Clement’s home on Winslow Road in North Falmouth, where he would be the center of attention, receiving gifts and well wishes from friends and family.
But four days later Mr. Clements was in more of a giving mood as he jumped onto the bus near his East Falmouth home en route to the Holiday Inn on Jones Road where the American Red Cross was eagerly accepting his, along with 65 other Cape residents, arrival last week.
At a time of year when many would rather be outside enjoying the warm weather, Mr. Clements took part in what has become a ritual for him—donating a pint of blood to those who need it.
Based upon records from the American Red Cross this was the 136th time Mr. Clements has given blood. That is the equivalent of 17 gallons or as Jecoliah Ellis, a spokesperson for the Red Cross said in a phone interview, “it is 408 lives he could have saved. That is pretty remarkable if you ask me. Not everyone can say that.”
While it is unclear when Mr. Clements first donated blood, paperwork he has kept show one of the earliest was on January 10, 1974, during a drive sponsored by WBZ Radio.
Why do I like to donate? I haven’t figured it out myself, but there is a tremendous satisfaction in doing it.
He has continued doing so for the past five decades though that was interrupted about six years ago when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. “I saw an oncologist here and one of them wanted to yank my prostate out,” he said. “So I went to Dana Farber in Boston and they didn’t recommend that for people my age. The recommended treatment in my case was radiation.”
The treatment for his cancer turned out to be successful, but as a precautionary measure he was not permitted to donate blood until recently. “Now I’m in the clear again,” he said, noting that he donated blood last year.
But on April 11 when the last drive was held in Falmouth, Mr. Clements was denied because the iron content in his blood was too low. “They asked me to eat plenty of liver and take pills which I’ve been doing — well, not the liver part,” he said.
He also adjusted his diet, purchasing a breakfast cereal at the Dollar Tree store in Falmouth Plaza, that advertised a high iron content.
Still as he walked into the Holiday Inn on Wednesday, he was worried that he would be turned away. “I’m very anxious to see if what I’ve been doing has worked,” he said. “I’m hoping it has remedied the situation.”
After a 20 minute questionnaire that included a pin prick to his finger to determine the iron levels in his blood, Mr. Clements was cleared to do what he had done 135 times previously.
Was he nervous? “No,” he said, as Ms. Place cleansed his left arm with iodine. “These people are pretty good.”
“I better get this right,” Ms. Place said, playfully. “The pressure is on.” And with that the needle had been placed gently into his arm and blood was being drawn.
Outside of this past April, Mr. Clements said, he has only been turned away one other time when the collection specialist had trouble getting the needle in. “As a result they aborted the donation,” he said. “I wasn’t very happy about that, but she felt bad about it and was very nice to me.”
There would be no such mishap for Mr. Clement this week who lay calmly on his back for 10 minutes as Ms. Place collected blood that may or may not be used locally.
“The blood is processed at the lab here in Massachusetts, but it will go wherever it is needed,” Ms. Ellis said. “We call it ‘blood without borders’ because it could be used here in Massachusetts or other parts of the country.”
On occasion, she said, that blood may travel to foreign countries in need which was the case following the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
The demand for blood is higher at this time of year, Ms. Ellis said, because “people are on vacation and aren’t really thinking about donating. Right now we are at critical levels.”
There is no upper-age limit for donors though in Massachusetts one must be 16 to donate with parental permission. Once residents turn 17 they can do so without parental consent.
The Red Cross uses donated blood on everything from trauma patients to accident victims to those receiving transplants to patients with a life-threatening disease such as cancer, she said.
For more information on donating blood or to find the next American Red Cross blood drive in the area visit www.redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-Red-Cross.
Though he has never been the recipient of blood, Mr. Clements expressed pride in the fact that he was making a positive impact in this world. “Why do I like to donate? I haven’t figured it out myself, but there is a tremendous satisfaction in doing it,” he said. “They claim you can feel pretty sure over the years you have saved a life... . And they are always having calamities of one kind of another where people’s lives are lost or at stake so realistically it is possible you are making a difference.”
As to how much longer he will continue this ritual, Mr. Clements was unsure, though he hoped to reach the 150 mark.
He will cross number 137 off the list in 56 days—when he is next eligible to donate blood—on Tuesday, August 14, when the American Red Cross returns to Falmouth. “I plan to come to that,” he said.
An earlier version of this article misquoted Theodore Clements that he was born in 1935. Mr. Clements was born in 1925, making him 87 years old. We apologize for the error.
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