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Columbia Missourian

FROM READERS: Jefferson impersonator shares wisdom gained from 168 blood donations

June 21, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
Patrick Lee is a self-employed professional portrayer of Thomas Jefferson. He recently made his 168th Red Cross blood donation, earning him a 21-gallon pin.

When Ashland-area resident Patrick Lee isn't donating blood, he portrays Thomas Jefferson professionally to convention audiences across the nation.

What does a 17 year old fresh-from-the-farm Mizzou freshman know? Practically nothing. Maybe that’s why I donated blood the first time at a Red Cross Blood Drive in the Student Union. The date was November 15, 1968.

What does a 62 year old father of six know? Not as much as he should, but he has learned this: Small things done consistently over time add up. I recently made my 168th blood donation. The date was May 19, 2013.

Think of a triangle of 21 one-gallon paint cans, stacked six wide on bottom row, then five, then four and so on, topped by a single can. That’s how much blood I’ve donated in 45 years. For that, Red Cross gave me a little plastic lapel pin with their logo and the number “21.” I wear it proudly.

The process of actually giving blood has changed little. A nurse makes sure you’re healthy, thoroughly cleans donation site, puts a needle in your vein, and waits a few minutes for the pint bag to fill. When you’re done, there are snacks and beverages in their canteen. They want to keep an eye on you for a few minutes. If you get light-headed, they want it to happen there, not outside or in your car. (Lightheadedness is rare, but they have your back!)

A lot of what surrounds the donating process has changed. The pretty girls in form-fitting Angel Flight uniforms who used to escort donors to the canteen in the 1960s are gone. Nice, but not PC. The health screening is far more extensive and intrusive, necessary for maintaining the integrity of the blood supply. They keep coming up with new questions! Here’s a new one I’ve been asked in just the last year: “You are a male donor?” Now, I don’t even wait for the question. I just announce, “I am still a male donor.” Some of the nurses find that humorous. I always do.

Why have I kept this up through the years? Because I can. It’s a simple thing to take an hour every eight weeks and do something that could save another’s life. (My body replaces that blood within days.) Over time, my 21 gallons have saved several lives, one pint at a time.

I haven’t given every eight weeks for 45 years. I was in my 40s before it became a habit. Had I been that regular, I’d be near 360 donations (45 gallons!) instead of my piddly 168. That would have put me way ahead of the 79 year old Florida man whom the July 2013 Reader’s Digest (Page 103) credits with a record-holding 315 pints. If he never gives another time, and I never miss another donation, I’ll pass him in my 81st year!

I encourage everyone to give blood one time. The Red Cross screening will make sure it’s safe and healthy for you to do so. If the first donation goes OK, do it again. And again. Maybe every eight weeks. Make a habit of it. In a few years, the Missourian might ask for your story. And an unknown number of grateful people will still be alive because of your small, consistent and so-important sacrifice.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.