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January 20, 2014
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A pint at a time

When it comes to donating blood, the lives of many depend on the generosity of few. Today, fewer than four out of every 10 people in the United States are eligible to give blood, yet fewer than one in 10 actually donate. Every day, blood donations help save the lives of cancer patients, accident victims and those in need of surgery.

According to BloodSource, which provides blood and transfusion services to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and more than 40 other hospitals in the region, approximately one out of every seven people admitted into the hospital needs blood. One donation has the potential to save three lives, and three teaspoons of blood can save a baby’s life.

Perhaps no one understands this better than Nevada City resident George Harper, who was recently honored for donating his 800th pint — or 100th gallon — of blood. His wife, Pat, has donated more than 500 pints.

“I’m passionate about this,” said Harper, 74. “This is something I can do that doesn’t cost anything — I just sit there and rest. If you ever find yourself in need of blood, aren’t you glad there are people out there donating? Occasionally, I get a call because they need my specific blood type. Last time, it was a newborn baby.”

Local cases of influenza and other upper respiratory tract infections have increased in numbers during the past several weeks, said Dr. Christopher Gresens, BloodSource senior medical officer and vice president of Global Medicine. This has affected the overall blood donor population, making it difficult to collect sufficient quantities of blood. Gresens is asking all healthy individuals who can donate blood to consider doing it soon.

“BloodSource has a goal to collect 700 pints of blood each day to meet the needs of Northern and Central California,” said Vicki Wolfe, communications manager for BloodSource. “Through the generosity of donors, we are also often able to help other blood centers throughout the United States — for example, during recent severe weather throughout the East Coast region, when local blood centers were not able to collect from local donors due to transportation issues and power outages.”

At the Grass Valley Donor Center on Sutton Way, donors can donate “whole” blood, which takes about an hour; they must weigh more than 110 pounds.

“The main product from whole blood is red blood cells that deliver oxygen throughout our bodies,” said Wolfe. “It’s very important for trauma patients, cancer patients or for any patient whose disease or disorder has caused anemia or loss of red blood cells. Red blood cells are viable for 42 days.”

Harper and other Grass Valley donors have also donated platelets, which take longer to donate, but donors can watch a DVD, read a book or use the center’s free WiFi.

“I must have saved thousands of dollars in movies from watching them while donating,” said Harper. “Donating platelets takes two hours at the most.”

Platelets are responsible for blood clotting, are only viable for five days and are critical to helping patients whose immune systems have been compromised or trauma patients, heart surgery patients and others, added Wolfe.

Over the years, Harper has also volunteered at Nevada Union High School, registering would-be donors.

Retired after a 30-year career with the Nevada County Department of Public Works, he said he’s met a lot of good people at BloodSource.

“They’re good folks — they are the kind of people who want to do something for their fellow man,” he said. “Now I’ve got three generations in my family doing this. I always say to people, ‘Why not donate? What’s it going to hurt?’ You also have to ask, ‘If not you, who?’”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at or call 530-477-4203.

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The Union Updated Jan 20, 2014 11:46PM Published Jan 22, 2014 01:08PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.