Bill O’Hara platelet donor, For 20 years O’Hara spends every other Sunday morning at the Central Blood Bank in Monroeville to donate platelets that are used to by cancer patients and others who require infusions of the life-saving clotting agent.
This Sunday, O’Hara made his 500th donation.
“I don’t do it for recognition. I do it because it makes me feel good. If somebody needs what I got, then it’s worth it,” O’Hara said.
O’Hara, 70, of Washington Township, is a retired engineer who has made it his routine to come as many as 24 times a year to recline in a chair and doze off as his blood is drawn from his right arm, and spun in a centrifuge to separate platelets from his blood.
Most days, O’Hara relaxes as he listens to music or watches movies on a monitor that hangs above his head during the 90-minute process..
Sunday’s donation was a little bit more celebratory. He was greeted with balloons and a cake on Sunday to commemorate the milestone.
“I think it’s absolutely amazing for him to donate so much of his time and blood. He has the biggest heart,” said Kimberly Abbott, the technician who has overseen O’Hara’s donations for the last 18 years. “It’s something he looks forward to and I look forward to his coming in.”
O’Hara has donated his platelets so often over the last 20 years that he’s become part of the fabric of the Monroeville donation center. He and the staff talk about their families and their lives.
“One day, I wasn’t here and they called me at home to make sure I was alright. I was just running late, but I made it,” O’Hara said.
Blood donations are limited to once every 56 days. Platelets, though can be given several times a month. That’s because donors such as O’Hara actually keep their blood. Once the platelets are spun out and separated, O’Hara’s blood is recycled back into his body.
O’Hara, a U.S. Navy veteran, originally acted as a whole blood donor, something he had done while he served in the South Pacific. When a friend suggested he try the more time consuming process of giving his platelets, he jumped in and extended both arms, one from which the platelets were drawn and the other in which his blood was returned.
The process has changed over the decades as machines now draw platelets and return the blood via the same arm.
“That first year I donated platelets, around Christmas-time I got a card from a family whose daughter got my platelets. It just makes me feel good to donate,” O’Hara said.
Workers at the blood bank don’t know how many lives O’Hara has helped to save, only that his donations are sorely needed.
“What he’s doing, though, is intense. To do it 500 times, it’s like going to the World Series three years in a row. That’s special,” said Rick McGrath of Monroeville. McGrath, a donor himself, learned of O’Hara’s generosity and was so impressed that he earlier this year recommended him for the prestigious Jefferson Award for public service.
For O’Hara, even after reaching his milestone, he said he expects to be back in the chair, arm out and ready to donate again in two weeks.
“I challenge anyone to try to catch up to me. I will match them one for one,” O’Hara said.