A dedicated ‘dedicated donor’
Today, Thursday, Jan. 25, Don Smith drove to Lexington to help save a life, just as he does every two weeks. Smith, 74, is a retired Navy Reserve officer and Ford executive who grew up in the Cleveland area. He and his wife, Susan, moved from Lexington to Oregon Road in 2001 and dubbed the property “Grandvue Farm.” From there, it takes him about a half-hour to drive the 21 miles to the Kentucky Blood Center (KBC) on Beaumont Centre Circle, where he spends about two hours on his back with a needle in an arm. The needle takes his blood and, after a centrifuge separates the platelets and a bit of plasma to suspend them in, returns his red blood cells. “I think a lot of people are afraid to do it because (they think) it hurts – and it really doesn’t. A little needle stab ... I’m doing it because I can. And there are benefits, there are side-benefits. Here for example, I have the $10 Amazon gift card in my wallet that the blood center mailed to me,” Smith said, smiling. Of course, his donations are worth far more than $10 to the blood center and the person who’s receiving them. Smith said he learned last month that he is one of a dozen “dedicated donors” whose platelets are helping keep a woman alive. The KBC’s director, Dr. Dennis Williams, said he didn’t know who was receiving Smith’s platelets and, even if he did, can’t disclose recipients’ identities. He acknowledged that Smith’s recipient likely lives in Central Kentucky (the platelets must be received within five days of their withdrawal) and said most platelet recipients are cancer patients who need transfusions because they can’t make their own platelets. “ … Certain patients can’t receive random platelet units off the shelf or from the inventory. They require special donors … who are HLA (human leukocyte antigen)-matched for them. For some of these patients, you might only find one percent of the donor population matches, or less. So when we find somebody who matches for a patient, it’s really important to get that donor in as frequently as we can and get them involved,” Williams said. “If we don’t get him, or those 11 other donors, then that patient’s not going to have any platelets available for them, at least platelets that will work best for them.” Asked why he takes the time and trouble and gasoline to drive to Lexington every other Thursday, Smith said, “Because I can. There’s a need and there aren’t enough people to donate like they need …” Smith said he first answered a public call from the blood center (formerly known as the Central Kentucky Blood Center) several years ago. “I figured if you could save some lives, and it wasn’t hurting me any, so I started doing it on a regular basis,” Smith said. He began donating whole blood every couple of months, then more often. Eventually he was told he’d be an ideal platelet donor. “I said, ‘Whatever you need. I’m here to serve. …’” Smith said. “I’ll be 75 in June and when I look at what tracks you leave in the snow … I’d like to be able, when I hang it up, to say I did some good.” Smith has also left tracks for the last seven years on the Woodford County Library’s Board of Directors, the last four as treasurer. He said he hopes this story will inspire others to donate blood, too. “I always walk away feeling I’ve done something good. Somebody is going to live or is going to have a better life or a better chance at living because I donated platelets,” Smith said. In addition to the occasional gift card, Smith also gets, with the encouragement of staff, a free post-donation soda and cookie. “They have a pretty good selection of cookies,” he said, adding that he usually picks oatmeal.