My favorite thing to do on Saturdays besides hiking is to spend a little more than an hour squeezing a small rubber ball every three seconds.
It’s something I’ve done every two weeks or so — 90 times altogether — since 2010.
As strange as it may sound, it is one of the most rewarding things I do.
It’s not an exercise designed to strengthen one’s grip. Instead it is to share the gift of life.
I’ve been blessed through the DNA sweepstakes to have a fairly strong platelet count. Platelets are small plate-shaped cell fragments that play a key role in helping with the blood clotting process. I probably didn’t need the Delta Blood Bank to tell me I had a decent platelet count given the number of times I’ve embraced the ground jogging or on hikes.
But I did need them to tell me that I could help others who would give anything to have their biggest medical problem being bleeding after a slight tumble rock scrambling.
I’ve donated blood since I was 24 thanks in a large part to the example my mom set. Even though I could give every 56 days, the most I probably did was twice a year through the Sacramento Blood Bank’s drives conducted in Lincoln.
Then I moved to Manteca in 1991 and came across an incredible man by the name of Dale Johnson.
For decades, Johnson organized community blood drives in Manteca long before Delta Blood Bank set up shop on North Main Street. The number of lives that Johnson and those who donated at blood drives he organized saved are incalculable.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Johnson had “saved” my life indirectly before I even moved here.
Johnson was the driving force behind the founding of the Manteca District Ambulance service more than 64 years ago. The non-profit also runs the ambulance service in Tuolumne County that retrieved me in July of 1990 from a rather serious “bonk.” It was the worst case of massive fatigue and dehydration the emergency room doctor at Tuolumne General Hospital who was a marathon runner said he had ever seen. It happened on the seventh day of a fully-loaded bicycling touring trip just above Kennedy Meadows on Highway 108 near Sonora Pass.
Granted, by 1990 ambulance service was fairly universal but someone had to get the ball rolling.
Johnson got me into the habit of donating whole blood an average of five times a year. It’s the process you can do once every 56 days. It takes about 10 minutes to have a needle stuck in your arm while they remove a pint of blood. The pint of whole blood they remove is useable for 42 days and can help as many as three people. Those people being helped may be battling cancer, need a bone marrow transplant, surgery or have suffered a major trauma.
Back in 2010 a Delta Blood Bank representative told me my platelet count was high enough to be a platelet donor and explained I could help more people. As she went through the list of the type of uses she mentioned leukemia.
For whatever reason at that moment the name of Russell Perkins popped into my head.
Russell was probably the happiest-go-lucky guy I’ve ever known. My grandmother would have described him as being as smart as a whip. He was athletic, never hesitated to help anyone, stood up for those being bullied, and was a hard worker. He wasn’t even 25 when he died from leukemia.
Doctors said if they had detected leukemia a few months sooner the outcome would have been different. Still blood that others donated helped him battle leukemia for a time.
The loss of someone as vibrant as Russell was crushing to a lot of people. It hit me hard as well.
And while it got me into being more diligent about donating blood, I’d be less-than-honest if there wasn’t a purely selfish motive involved.
The blood you donate is run through a slew of tests before it is used for a patient. Among the long list of things they look for are indicators of an infection with a virus that may cause adult T-cell leukemia.
If for no other reason, donating blood is a way of having a free blood screening.
My decision to go a step further and give platelets — something that could be done every seven days but federal law restricts to no more often than every two weeks with a maximum of 24 times a year — has everything to do with me giving thanks for my good fortune.
It’s true that I’m a border line exercise fanatic and eat fairly healthy, but I also won the DNA sweepstakes that count. While I’d never be mistaken for an athlete or someone with features that would get me on the cover of GQ, I’ve been blessed with good health that has allowed me to overcome a repertoire of minor physical infections from hammer toes, massive bunions, slight scoliosis, gout, and a shoulder issue that makes throwing a ball halfway decent impossible, to Mr. Magoo eyesight.
Platelets are good for just five days. A single donation, though can help between 12 and 18 patients. And those patients are somewhere within Delta Blood Bank’s service territory. They could be a neighbor, an acquaintance, a young child battling leukemia, or a teen traffic accident victim.
Given that, taking 2 hours every two weeks to go through the process including the drive to and from March Lane in Stockton is worth every minute.