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Longtime Colorado blood donor John credits the wellness check, aka mini-physical, all donors receive before a blood donation with saving his life. After he was deferred from donating due to low hemoglobin, he went to his doctor. They discovered John had a serious health issue, and he is on the mend after two heart surgeries and five blood transfusions.

“If Vitalant hadn’t told me that my hemoglobin test was not right, then I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor and found out about my heart, and I wouldn’t be here today,” John said. “It saved my life.”

John had been a blood donor for almost 50 years. He started because a coworker asked him to donate on behalf of her father, who had cancer. When the nurse told him after his donation that he was type O-negative, the universal donor, and his blood may help premature babies, John was hooked.

“That was it … from then on, every opportunity I got, I gave. I HAD to give and I did, as regularly as I could, until I had donated about 90 pints. I felt guilty if I missed my 60-day visit,” John said.

Everything changed that fateful day in September 2021 when John went to donate at the Vitalant donation center in Boulder. He hadn’t been feeling 100 percent, and his wife and his doctor had been urging him to get some tests, but he kept putting them off. “Being a guy, I said I’m just going to tough it out,” John remembered. His blood donation deferral was the push John needed to finally visit his physician.

After numerous tests, doctors discovered that a rare bacteria had settled in John’s heart valves and was slowly destroying them. And pieces of the bacteria had broken off and traveled through his body, affecting other internal organs. He needed two heart surgeries, and during one of them, he received five units of blood. Lying awake one night in his hospital bed, John “felt” a tap on his shoulder and had a strange feeling.

“A word came to my mind – payback. I was still alive after the surgery and I was being thanked for all the people whose lives continued because they were given my blood. I’m not a particularly spiritual person but this experience makes me emotional every time I talk about it,” John said, his voice catching.

Unfortunately, John won’t be able to donate blood anymore. He’s hoping by sharing his story he will not only encourage people to donate blood but also to pay attention to the wellness check results.

“If my story can help save someone else’s life, maybe not be so stubborn, then my work has been done; there’s my payback. Pass it on,” he said. “I gave blood simply because I felt it was my duty as a human being.” But, John added, he didn’t fully comprehend how important donating blood, and the wellness check, are until all this happened.

“The way I look back at it, I was a month from not being here. I’m a PROcrastinator, and if they hadn’t deferred me at the Vitalant center, I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor,” John continued. “Vitalant saved my life, not only for having the blood I needed for the operations but for not letting me give that day.”

Published by Taitia S. -- Vitalant Contributor

Article published for the Vital Donor newsletter.