By Tyler Sigmon, Communications Volunteer
For Ellis A. Caplan, a 22-year American Red Cross volunteer and long-time blood donor, his journey to 250 blood donations began with a single step nearly 50 years ago.
On Friday (July 12), Ellis was recognized for his 250th blood donation at the Mt. Hope Blood Donation Center by a group of appreciative Red Cross volunteers and staff.
As an Army veteran, Caplan speculates that his first donation was made at some point during his service around 1968, although he points out those donations may not have counted. He first began voluntarily donating blood in 1971.
“At the time I was working for the federal government and they [the Red Cross] came down to my building and asked people to donate, so I went,” recalled Caplan. “I’ll admit I didn’t have a great time the first time. I felt faint.”
Caplan, of Randallstown, is a dedicated second-generation American Red Cross volunteer and blood donor. His mother, Jeanne, volunteered with and frequently gave blood to the Red Cross until about age 93. His father, David Caplan, was also a dedicated volunteer. The couple was photographed and featured on volunteer recruiting materials disseminated by the Red Cross in the 1990s and were named regional Red Cross Volunteers of the Year in 1999. Caplan carries his mother’s blood donor card with him in his wallet.
The 250 units Caplan has donated equates to more than 31 gallons of blood he’s given to help others in need. One unit can save up to three lives, meaning he could potentially have saved 750 lives through his giving.
“I remember I was donating once early on and they put a red flag on my blood,” he recalled. “I asked about it and they told me that my blood type (O Positive) was being sent to pediatrics. I then knew what a great reason I had to donate – for the children.”
While the 250-unit threshold is certainly an incredible milestone, it is not unheard of for donors to reach that level in their lifetime, according to Mt. Hope donor Site Supervisor, Amy Dyson.
“Well, maybe not common, but it is attainable,” she said. “We are fortunate to have some very dedicated donors.”
Caplan's donation, and others, take on greater meaning presently as the Red Cross is facing an emergency need for blood and platelets after a significant shortfall in blood donations during the Fourth of July holiday week and ongoing challenges finding new blood donors. The Red Cross is urging eligible individuals to give now to help avoid delays in lifesaving medical care for patients this summer. Schedule an appointment, learn more about the donation process and how donating helps the greater community at: redcrossblood.org.
For the milestone donation, Caplan recruited his friend and fellow worshiper, Richard Peters. They’d spent the morning at their synagogue preparing food and had come to donate following the conclusion of their duties at around 8 a.m. As a result, the two men had been awake since about 5 a.m.
“I wasn’t a consistent donor before he convinced me,” said Peters. “I guess he needed more donor credits,” he joked.
Peters, who has donated roughly a dozen times in his lifetime, joined Caplan on this day to give their fourth blood donation together. “Don’t forget, don’t forget, don’t forget,” is how Peters describes Caplan’s relentlessness in making sure they keep their appointments.
Following the blood donation, Caplan and Peters shared what they jokingly referred to as their cocktail, which is a mixture of orange and cranberry juices they combine from the cans kept on hand in the canteen for donors to rehydrate after completing their blood donations.
When asked if he needed to set up his next donation appointment, Caplan smiled and said, “Oh no. I’ve already done it. September 6th. 56 days from today! I come every 56 days exactly.”
Reflecting on what keeps him coming back to donate so consistently, Caplan briefly set aside his lighthearted banter with the staff and volunteers and remarked solemnly, “I just thank God I can do it.”