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‘Ultimate gift’ can save a life

Over the years, I’ve offered holiday-giving ideas for my readers’ consideration. But this year, I offer a “direct request.”

Hold it in your heart for a minute — then act on it. Please.

But first, some context. I’ve used this column in previous years to pose the “All I want for Christmas …” question. I leaned toward levity.

One year, I wanted a lop-eared goat, which I envisioned roaming about our fenced back yard, chewing on the brambly, blackberry bushes we had at the time. I received correspondence from several readers reminding me goats need to be paired, and one lone goat was not enough. There were countless other stories about outrageous consumption behaviors. One family lost all their patio furniture.

Another year, I asked “the giving question” differently and wondered what my readers thought would be the perfect holiday gift. The responses were fascinating, often sadly whimsical. One woman just wanted a telephone call from her out-of-touch granddaughter.

This year I have a bigger request, a much more important one. I beseech you to join me in giving the gift of life: a donation of your blood.

Blood supply is in a perilous state across the nation. There is simply not enough blood supply available, not enough donors.

In the final months of his life, my husband needed blood transfusions. Every time his lab work indicated a critically low red blood count, there would be recognition he met the criteria, which always was accompanied by expressed concerns about the shortage of available blood and “how many pints” they would/could give him.

“Insufficient supply” was the term most often used. We would ask clinicians if our family members, several who are universal donors (i.e. having a blood type that can be used by anyone), could come to a particular hospital site and give blood targeted to a specific individual. We were told there was no precedent for that.

We asked why this crisis in the lack of blood available was not a front-and-center story in the media. Our clinical team wondered that, too.

In February last year, my husband, Howard, was receiving a much-needed, in-hospital blood transfusion while I was at the same moment donating blood in a Red Cross Mobile Unit parked on the street below. COVID regulations were still in play, so I could not be with him in the hospital. We had come that day for his chemotherapy infusion, but they could not safely do it until they transfused.

My brother-in-law, who is a universal donor, a term used for people whose blood type is compatible with all other blood types, was giving blood that same day in a city hundreds of miles away. And about that time, our son, a pilot, was volunteering with the Red Cross in cities where he had a few days of layover. He still does that.

Please join our family. Become a blood donor, maybe even volunteer to help at a Red Cross service center or blood bank. I just scheduled my last donation of the year. Call 1-800-RED CROSS or go to redcross.org

Join me in giving the ultimate gift. Thank you.

Sharon Johnson is a retired educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com