Doug McKee tried to give blood but wound up saving his own life.
McKee, 72, didn’t get to give blood at the 2007 Gift of Life Marathon because the screening process caught a potentially fatal heart condition just in time to repair it. Now he donates frequently and plans to be among the first through the door at the Holiday Inn Tuesday for the Summer Gift of Life Mini-Marathon.
“I’ve already got my appointment made,” he said. “I believe my wife is donating right after me. We take it pretty serious.”
McKee’s dedication to giving blood goes back to the birth of his grandson, Max, who was several weeks premature and weighed 1 pound, 10 ounces. McKee said Max required blood transfusions. Max pulled through, is growing up healthy and just won a presidential award at his sixth-grade graduation.
McKee said he told his story to local radio hosts Terry Jaye and Nanci Gordon and the duo convinced him to “give back” by signing up for the Gift of Life Marathon Blood Drive, back when Rutland and Manchester, New Hampshire, were trading the New England record for single-day blood drives back and forth. McKee said he showed up, and the technician who was screening him left to get another blood pressure cuff, saying she thought the one she was using must be defective.
“She took my pressure and said, ‘You can’t give blood today,’” he said. “’Your blood pressure is 204 over 104 and your heartbeat is so erratic I can’t take it. You might want to get that checked out.’”
McKee said he waited a day — he felt fine — and then called his doctor.
“He told me to get my fanny in there right away,” he said.
After a battery of tests, McKee ultimately had a double bypass at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where his surgeon told him he had a blockage referred to as a “widowmaker,” which could have suddenly turned fatal.
“By giving that blood, I’m still here,” he said. “I give blood every chance I get now.”
Mary Brant, regional spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said she wished more people would adopt that attitude. The Red Cross issued an urgent call for donors, noting that the blood supply had dropped to below two days worth — a frequent occurrence in the summer as donors are traveling or on vacation and schools, which are a major source of donors, are not in session.
“Summer is always a time the Red Cross struggles,” she said.
The supply of Type O is below the two-day level, she said, which includes Type O-negative, the “universal donor” blood given to people whose blood type hasn’t been identified. While hospitals have enough to cover their day-to-day needs, she said sudden events can ratchet up those needs. One relatively recent example, she said, was the Boston Marathon bombing.
“When something like that happens, it can require massive amounts of blood products immediately,” she said. “When that happens, it’s the blood already on the shelves that saves lives.”
Less dramatically, Brant said, the blood supply can be stressed by storms and other natural disasters that might not increase the need for blood, but disrupt efforts to collect it. She said the Red Cross tries to keep a five-day supply on hand, and while people are good about donating in response to disasters, it would be better if they got in the habit of donating every eight weeks.
“If you’re a donor now, the Red Cross thanks you,” she said. “Look around at your friends. Look around at your family. Is there someone you can invite to come with you?”
The Summer Gift of Life Mini-Marathon runs from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Holiday Inn. Reservations can be made — and donor eligibility can be checked — at redcross.org or 1-800-RED-CROSS.