For many, the holidays bring together families and friends to share in celebrations. For families dealing with a cancer diagnosis or other major illness, the holidays can be a difficult time. This holiday season, the American Red Cross asks you to give something that means something – a blood or platelet donation.
Gary Peters knows firsthand the importance of blood donation. His oldest son, Jacob, was an active 16-year-old athlete when he was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma almost two years ago.
“I had never really considered donating blood before Jacob got sick, mainly because it would have been ‘inconvenient’ to take time out of my day to have someone poke me in the arm,” Gary said. “I think most people don’t consider donating until they are directly affected by a tragedy. Accidents, natural disasters, or a family illness will bring about a new way of thinking. I am as guilty as anyone of subscribing to that line of thought, but after witnessing what Jacob went through and the countless setbacks, I now know that it is not an inconvenience, it is imperative.”
Before his diagnosis, Jacob was poised to be one of the top 400-meter runners in Nebraska. He was working toward a spot on the varsity basketball team and dreamed of playing quarterback for a college football team. Jacob knew how to work hard for what he wanted. His fighting spirit and determination helped him during his treatment.
“He begged the doctors to let him return to his normal workouts,” Gary said. “They said no, so he started doing no-impact leg and arm exercises while he was in bed or sitting in the treatment room. He had to wear a mask and gloves, but he still worked on his passing mechanics by throwing a football into a net in our backyard – alone – for months.”
Jacob never went more than three weeks without chemotherapy and he needed multiple transfusions of blood and platelets. Gary says he sat by his son’s bedside, knowing that he had the same blood type. He promised himself he would become a blood donor.
“Many people asked what they could do to help and I never had a good answer,” Gary said. “Donating blood is a tangible way to help.”
Cancer claimed Jacob’s life less than a year after his initial diagnosis, but Gary kept the promise he made to become a blood donor. He has also become an advocate for blood donation. “Unfortunately, almost all of us will experience some instance where we, or a family member, will need blood or platelets,” he said. “Don’t wait… it may be too late for someone who deserves a chance. You can help give them a chance to fight.”
GIVE SOMETHING THAT MEANS SOMETHING The need for blood is constant. Families of cancer patients, accident victims and many others are counting on the generosity of volunteer blood donors. Platelet donors and blood donors of all types are needed, especially O negative, A negative, B negative and AB. Rh-negative blood types can potentially be transfused to both Rh-positive and Rh-negative patients. Type O negative blood is universal and can potentially be transfused to patients with any blood type, which is why it’s often used in emergency situations.
HOW TO GIVE For more information about donating blood, or to make an appointment to donate blood or platelets, please visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Individuals who are at least 17 years of age (16 with parental consent in some states), weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.