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Howard became a blood donor to save other people’s lives. He never imagined that donating blood would also save his own life. Twice.

You may have heard Vitalant tout the health benefits that blood donation offers to donors as well as patients. Well, it’s not just a marketing ploy. The mini-physical you receive every time you complete a donation can be one of the first indicators something is amiss. Howard is living proof.

The Chicago-area donor started donating blood in the 1980s through his employer, who sponsored on-site blood drives. He eventually became a regular plasma donor after being encouraged to do so because of his AB-positive blood type.

“It always made sense to me that if I was going to depend upon others to donate in case I should ever be in need, I should also do the same. In the past couple of years, I have discovered that not only are there selfless reasons to donate, but there are also selfish reasons to donate.”

In 2019, Howard was deferred from donating because his heart rate was over 100, not just once, but several times. Because serious heart disease runs in his family, Howard became concerned and mentioned it at his next checkup. After a stress test that prompted an angiogram, doctors discovered he had blockages of 99, 95 and 89 percent in three arteries. Bypass surgery was scheduled ASAP.

Howard had what is known as a widowmaker; he’d had no symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath before his deferral.

“If not for being a plasma donor, I likely would have simply dropped dead,” he said. “That was my first lifesaving experience.”

While he recuperated, Howard wasn’t allowed to donate blood for about a year. But as soon as he was eligible and got a call from Vitalant, he headed to his donation center.

“I came in all excited and ready to jump back on the bandwagon. Just one problem, my iron was too low. That had never happened before.”

Again, Howard checked with his doctor, who ordered additional tests. The diagnosis this time was colon cancer. Thankfully, the cancer was small and localized, and after successful surgery, he didn’t need further treatment.

“There’s no question about it, if you donate blood, you’ll save lives – you might even save your own,” Howard said of his experience. He remains determined to keep donating plasma. “As soon as I’m eligible and they’re ready for me, I will happily roll up my sleeve."

Article published for the Vital Donor newsletter.