- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - For most of his life, John Reber has been giving - neither his time nor his money, but his blood.

By his count, the lifelong Topekan, now 89, has given 307 times since 1953. It is an unofficial count written on yellowed legal paper in tiny handwriting, but Reber has listed every blood donation date he can remember.

“People have been asking me for years if I was ever going to quit donating,” Reber tells the Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/1Kotkui ). “I always said, ‘As long as God keeps me healthy enough to keep giving blood to people who aren’t healthy.’ “

Now, Reber can’t donate blood anymore.

He still is healthy, but last fall when he tried to donate, he learned his iron count was too low. After a follow-up, doctors told him that, at his age, the level of blood in his own body was too low to safely be able to donate to others.

It is pretty common for people Reber’s age to be unable to donate blood, said Cindy Kerns, site manager for the Community Blood Center. As the body ages, it processes blood differently. Donors have to be at least 17 years old, or 16 with parents’ consent, but there is no upper age limit on donating.

The center at 6220 S.W. 29th where Reber has donated the most provides blood to more than 70 area hospitals and requires about 580 units of blood a day to keep up with demand. Reber, who has donated nearly 40 gallons at the center, and others like him are crucial to keeping the supply up, Kerns said. Only about 6 percent of eligible donors do so on a regular basis.

On a Wednesday afternoon, Reber is at the blood center, but not to donate. He sits away from other donors, wearing one of the more than 40 blood donation or cancer treatment shirts he has collected throughout the years. He is a well-known figure at the center, Kerns said.

“He’s a character. He’s always got a story to tell,” she said. “Everyone knows his name, and I think he knows all of us.”

Many people who donate at the center do so because they know someone who has needed blood or battled cancer, Kerns said. Reber’s daughter, Tammy, battled and survived breast cancer, and his son, Mark, also had cancer. But Reber said he didn’t donate for personal reasons.

“To me, it’s just something I feel good about,” he said.

Reber, who served in the Army near the end of World War II, felt obligated to donate in 1953 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower called for blood donations to be sent to troops fighting in Korea. He went to a mobile blood bank one day in April while he was working in downtown Topeka. In his wallet, he still carries the donor card he received that day, faded and held together with a bit of clear tape.

“I’m a vet myself, and I thought if I was hurt I’d sure want somebody to help me out,” he said.

After the donation, nurses suggested he sit down and rest, but Reber said he felt fine, being a young man in top shape. So he left the tent and ventured down Quincy Street. As he crossed 8th Street, though, he got dizzy and kneeled in the crosswalk. He crawled across the intersection to the curb until he felt better, he said.

“I had cars stopping for me and everything,” he said.

He didn’t let the dizzy spell frighten him away from future donations. A couple of months later, he said, he decided to give again, and hasn’t had any side effects since. Until now, nothing has stopped him from donating, he said.

Even when he briefly lost his driver’s license after a traffic stop in Colorado a few years ago, he still managed to get to the blood center on a regular basis. Police near Burlington, Colo., thought he was too old to drive, but Reber insists he drives “just fine.” He walks easily with a cane, a relatively new device for him, and may need a hip replacement. If he does, and the surgery requires a blood transfusion, it would be the only time the donor, who has helped countless others, will need a donation himself.

“I’ve never taken blood,” he said. “I’ve always been real healthy, so I’ve just been giving it.”

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs a blood donation. That means 41,000 donations are needed every day, according to the American Red Cross. The Red Cross states on its website that the average donation may save the lives of as many as three people, so it is possible that Reber’s 307 donations could have helped as many as 921 people throughout the years.

Reber stopped giving whole blood sometime in the 1980s, he said, after getting a letter from a local hospital thanking him for all his donations and encouraging him to donate blood platelets instead. It is a longer process, taking close to two hours to complete, but blood platelets are needed more than whole blood, Kerns said. Reber was glad to make the change, even though it takes longer.

The blood center will miss Reber, Kerns said, but employees understand that not everyone can donate.

“He said to me, ‘Maybe I should give up,’ ” Kerns said. “I said ‘No, John, you’re not giving up. You’ve already done more than your share.’”

Reber is proud of all his donations, but he is comfortable with stopping now.

“I don’t think I’ll miss it too much,” he said.


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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