Throughout his near 400 visits to Florida clinics since July 7, 1977, 84-year-old Harold Mendenhall has reached a rare milestone – donating 100 gallons of lifesaving blood.
To understand the scope of his achievement, 100 gallons would fill the gas tanks of eight Honda Civics.
In smaller terms, there are 8 pints in a gallon, and per the average donation a person usually gives a single pint of blood. There are about 10 pints of blood circulating within an adult human body.
Mendenhall was inspired to start donating blood when his wife, Frankie, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died seven years later. Mendenhall stopped by the blood bank on his way home from work on that particular day, because he found seven to be his lucky number, and began donating.
The charitable act seemed to aid in the bereavement process with the loss of Mendenhall’s wife, and later the death of his two sons, as the blood platelets he regularly donates help others in need.
One pint of whole blood can yield up to eight units of concentrated platelets, blood’s essential clotting factor. Patients with blood cancers, such as leukemia, often require platelet transfusions.
Extracted in a process called apheresis, platelet donors like Mendenhall typically give two pints of blood at a time. For plateletpheresis, the blood goes through an apparatus that separates the platelets from the other blood components and returns the fluid back to the patient. The ability to give two pints at once is the reason Mendenhall required only 400 donations to yield 100 gallons of blood and not 800, reports The Palm Beach Post.
Blood is a bodily fluid is responsible for delivering necessary nutrients and oxygen to the cells, and transporting metabolic waste away from those same cells. It is composed of blood cells suspended in plasma. Plasma, which constitutes 55 percent of blood fluid, is mostly water and dissipated proteins, glucose, mineral ions like calcium, electrolytes like sodium, hormones, carbon dioxide, and actual blood cells.
Albumin is the main protein in plasma, regulating the colloidal osmotic pressure of blood. The blood cells are mainly red blood cells (erythrocytes) and white blood cells (leukocytes), and platelets (thrombocytes).
Red blood cells are the most abundant and contain hemoglobin, an iron-dense protein which facilitates transportation of oxygen. In contrast, carbon dioxide is transported extracellularly as a dissolved bicarbonate ion within the plasma.
[Video, example of what to expect when giving blood for the first time]
As blood itself cannot be replicated or manufactured, donated blood is needed and used in a variety of medical situations – whether it be an emergency, surgical, or treatment based – as in the case of cancer, blood cells are often ravaged by chemo.
On average, one donation can save as many as three lives. Which means, in Mendenhall’s case he potentially aided 2,400 people. According to the American Red Cross – who supplies approximately 40 percent of the nation’s blood stock – every two seconds someone in the US needs blood, requiring at least 44,000 blood donations every day from eligible donors – healthy individuals who do not use or have a history of intravenous drugs or blood-borne diseases.
Healthy bone marrow produces a constant supply of red cells, plasma, and platelets. Therefore, the body of a donor is able to replenish theses elements within a matter of hours or weeks.
Only seven percent of people in the US have an O-negative blood type, which is considered universal – given to people of all blood types, and is typically used first in emergency situations before the receiver’s type is identified. Three percent of people in the US have AB-positive blood type which are universal donors of plasma. This type is often used in emergencies for patients requiring massive transfusions.
All contributed blood is tested for HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis and other infectious diseases before it can be released to hospitals.
People mistakenly assume blood and plasma can be stored indefinitely, but it is not the case. Once collected, on average, red blood cells are good for nearly 40 days, platelets are good for two to five days, and plasma can be frozen and used for up to one year.
[Image via Shutterstock]