Barry is uncertain whether he received a blood transfusion during his recovery from brain surgery at age 8 in 1973.
The 53-year-old from Lombard is more certain the procedure doctors performed to correct an arteriovenous malformation 45 years ago is what ultimately led him to become a regular blood donor.
“It’s a big reason why I donate,” Barry said of the brain surgery. “I figured if someone helped me than I should help others.”
Barry has helped – to the tune of 62 lifetime donations with Vitalant. More than two dozen of those donations have been double red blood cells, an apheresis donation during which whole blood is withdrawn, red cells are separated and retained and the remainder of the blood is returned to the donor. An apheresis donation safely removes two times the red blood cells that a traditional whole blood donation provides.
“I usually will donate whatever [Vitalant] is in need of,” Barry said. “Donating double red blood cells takes a little longer [than regular whole blood] but I don’t mind. I’m more focused on helping others than how much time it might take to donate.”
Barry may be focused on helping others when he is in the donor’s chair, but he also likes to have a little fun in the process. A fan of the Star Wars movie franchise, Barry often dresses as either a Tusken Raider or Stormtrooper when he donates blood. He also uses his love of Star Wars to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Barry said approximately five times during the summer he stands outside of Walmart in his Stormtrooper suit collecting funds for the ACS. Last year he raised more than $6,500 and is already close to $5,000 this year.
If the force isn’t with him on a particular day, he will instead sport an Anthony Rizzo Chicago Cubs jersey when he donates.
“Rizzo is my favorite player and he’s such a good guy who has done so many wonderful things for children with cancer,” Barry said. “You always hear about him going to hospitals and visiting sick children. He’s a class act.”
“A class act” is also a term one could use to describe Barry. Through a Star Wars movie message board Barry began communicating with a fellow fan named Josh who was based in California. Barry later learned Josh was suffering from kidney disease and in need of a kidney transplant. Committed to a lifestyle of paying it forward after his brain surgery as a child, Barry offered to donate a kidney and while the gesture was initially declined Josh later accepted and Barry flew to The Golden State in 2009 to complete the procedure.
“He’s doing well,” Barry said of Josh. “We’ve become good friends and talk regularly.
“Donating a kidney wasn’t a difficult decision for me since there was a person in need and I wanted to help.”
A regular at Vitalant’s Villa Park community donor center, Barry said he plans on donating for “as long as I can.”
“I’ll do it until they tell me I can’t,” he said. “You hear so much bad news today, but this is a way to make a positive impact.”
Barry encouraged those who have never given blood to roll up their sleeve and become a donor.
“It doesn’t take very long to donate and blood is always needed,” he said. “You will be helping someone in need.”