By: Doyle Rader
Jackie Gunn was happily retired, traveling the country and visiting the national parks with his wife, Alta, on the back of a Honda Goldwing motorcycle. Her favorite was Yellowstone. When he wasn’t on the road, the Dallas resident and former IT professional looked for volunteer opportunities where he could make a difference. That’s what initially brought him to the American Red Cross.
He served on the disaster side of things, working in Disaster Services Technology (DST) for several local disaster relief operations. He remained active for several years in this role, then his life changed forever.
ALTA FIGHTS LEUKEMIA
In 2018, Alta was diagnosed with Leukemia. Jackie stopped volunteering so that he could be there for her. For a while, the cancer went into remission and the two were able to get some semblance of their old lives back. It would only be temporary, though. Her Leukemia came back with a vengeance in 2020, as Gunn puts it. After a three-year battle, Alta passed away on May 16, 2021. The two had been married for 50 years and five months.
“I still struggle, but I was really struggling,” Gunn says. “My kids were there, but the kids all had jobs and had all gone back to work. So, I decided that I needed to get busy. I had to find something.”
He got in touch with people he knew who were still with the Red Cross and decided to return to volunteering. He needed to do something that gave him a sense of accomplishment, something he could feel good about. But he didn’t return to his work with DST. He chose to lend his support to another line of service.
GUNN JOINS THE BLOOD DONATION TEAM
While Alta was going through treatment, the Gunns spent nearly 200 days in the hospital. They were there for long stretches at a time, sometimes over 30 days in a row. Gunn says he took Alta’s treatment of whole blood and platelets for granted at the time. He doesn’t now. After seeing firsthand the importance of blood as Alta fought Leukemia, he decided to volunteer with the blood services team.
“I was acutely aware of how important blood donations and blood products are to sustaining life for people who are going through treatments, especially cancer treatments,” Gunn says. “So, I really felt compelled to concentrate my activities on the bio side.”
Now a transportation driver, Gunn has been moving blood products throughout Dallas-Fort Worth and the surrounding areas for the past eight months. He tries to make two runs per week. His trips usually take him up to Palestine, down to Ennis and out to Fort Worth before he returns home to the Dallas chapter office. In all, the routes take him some seven to eight hours to complete.
“Every time I do a delivery route and my van is full of blood products and platelets, I really feel good about what that stuff is doing, where it’s going and the people that it’s helping,” Gunn says.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
Aside from driving, Gunn also actively donates blood and platelets after seeing their importance in his wife’s treatments. He makes an appointment to give once a month.
Gunn’s return to volunteering was a much-needed outlet for him. Although he still struggles with the loss of Alta—he speaks with a counselor and attends grief group meetings—his work with the Red Cross is a way to honor her memory.
“I really think the mission of the Red Cross is so important,” Gunn says. “The disaster stuff is very important, but blood services is where my heart is now. I really feel like that’s a good place to make a contribution.”