It is not much to ask. Plus they give you a cookie and a glass of juice!
Community blood drives are as common as ever in our region. Just look along the roadside and you will see signs proclaiming “GIVE BLOOD!” with a handwritten date and place on it. Friendly volunteers staff the blood drives, regulars show up (“Hi Joe, I am about a quart over; how about draining some!”) and newcomers are solicited in various ways.
These drives started as a war effort in England in 1940 and moved to the U.S. a year later. The National Blood Donor Service was designed to “bank” as much blood as possible for the approaching war, and England actually sent the man who created the blood drive, Dr. Charles Drew, to the U.S. to help get it started. The wartime program ended in 1946, having gathered more than 13 million units of blood. It was a huge success, and many felt that it would serve the national good to implement the blood drives on a permanent basis. It wasn’t long before the national blood collection was brought back and that is basically what we have today.
Not everybody gives blood. Some never have donated. Those who do participate seem to love it and go back often. I know my wife, Trish, is a regular at the blood drives in the area. They even call her to let her know when the next one is. Like a friendly neighborhood reminder. I like that.
You don’t have to remind Mike Parella of Oneonta when the next Red Cross blood drive is. He has been donating his blood at regular intervals for more than 60 years! You don’t have to tell Mike about the importance of giving blood. The friendly and cheerful Oneontan was a pharmacist in the city for 22 years. His store was at Main and Broad.
I asked Mike how he got started giving blood.
“Well, Big Chuck, I remember it like it was yesterday,” he told me. “I was living in Albany at the time, renting a room above an old Italian couple. They were a nice couple. One night I saw the old man being carried out on a stretcher and taken to Albany Medical Center for surgery. He had been hemorrhaging and it was apparent that he had lost quite a bit of blood. Well, in those days, when they used up the blood they had to make it up immediately. I felt sorry for the old guy so I decided to go ahead and give blood in his name. I don’t know why I ever did this,” Mike laughed. “I was just 19 years old and deathly afraid of needles!”
So how did that first engagement with the needle go?
“I was very surprised. It wasn’t bad at all, and almost immediately I lost my fear of needles,” he said.
Mike has been a familiar and welcome sight at Red Cross blood drives ever since. He is now a youthful 80 years young and he continues to watch his calendar for the next time he can give. Last week he donated his 396th pint of blood. While nobody really keeps the record of things like who has given the most blood nationwide, Mike will hit the 50 gallon mark in just a few more visits. Yes, I said 50 gallons!
“Then I can retire,” he chuckled.
The American Red Cross likes guys like Mike. It isn’t always easy to fill the blood quotas they set. In fact there were 50,000 fewer donations nationwide in June of 2013 than there were in June 2012. Around 1985, with the HIV/AIDS scare, blood donations dropped off. Today the Red Cross performs more than a dozen HIV tests on the more than 6 million units donated annually.
Mike’s efforts are known and have been recognized by those who put on the Red Cross bloodmobiles. They rely on guys like Mike. Both here, locally, and across the country. There is no question that to them Mike is a real hero.
Oh, and if you want to congratulate Mike in person for his great accomplishment, he will see you on Aug. 16 at the Elm Park Methodist Church in Oneonta, the next area blood drive.
Tell him I said hi and to save me a cookie!
I’ll catch you in two…..
“Big Chuck” D’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find “Big Chuck” on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.