Longtime Blood Donor Endures a Little Needling for a Good Cause

Times Staff Writer

Joel Blitz would be the first to say that he's not the most health-conscious person.

The former smoker doesn't eat right and rarely works out, except, he says, to lift his 200-pound frame out of bed each morning.

Yet, the 57-year-old Westlake Village resident is disciplined when it comes to giving blood every two months at the UCLA Blood and Platelets Center, where today he will be inducted into Baxter Healthcare's Donor Hall of Fame for donating 200 pints of blood since 1963.

Although Blitz jokes that " 'Donor Hall of Fame' sounds like something sponsored by vampires," he understands that maintaining an adequate blood supply can mean the difference between life and death and he knows that, on at least two occasions, his donations prolonged a recipient's life.

The wife of a friend was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live unless she underwent a surgery that required a blood transfusion.

"I gave her a donation in which certain components of the blood were removed and the remainder was circulated through her body," he said. "She lived for a year and a half after the surgery."

Blitz also donated blood to a 6-year-old boy who was to undergo a second kidney transplant after his body rejected a previous transplant. When Blitz learned that the second surgery was successful, he joked that it was the "tar, nicotine and caffeine" in his blood that had helped pull the boy through.

Inspired by the selfless example of his father, Blitz has been giving blood about six times a year -- every year -- since he was 18.

In the 1950s, his father donated blood to patients during open-heart surgery, Blitz recalled. "He would go into the hospital at 4:30 a.m., lie on a table next to the person being operated on, and tubes would carry his blood to the patient. He did it because he could potentially save someone's life."

Blitz gave his first pint in 1963 when blood was taken through huge needles -- that were disinfected and sharpened between donations -- and collected in glass bottles. "The first donation was great, or I wouldn't have continued."

Since then, Blitz has donated blood every 56 days -- the recommended time needed to replenish iron to oxygen-carrying red blood cells. It is a routine his wife Susan jokingly refers to as his "menstrual cycle."

"What he has done is amazing," said Dr. Priscilla Figueroa, medical director of the UCLA Blood and Platelet Center and co-director of transfusion medicine at UCLA Medical Center, adding that the average donor gives 1 1/2 pints of blood a year, compared to Blitz's five pints annually.

"He hasn't made excuses or found a way to get out of keeping an appointment," she said. "He has made a lifelong commitment to give blood. He has done this for no reward other than trying to help other people."

Blitz is embarrassed by all of the fuss surrounding his induction ceremony, including speeches by actor and singer Pat Boone, whose grandson received blood donations from the UCLA center, and letters of commendation from U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), the former head of the American Red Cross.

"I don't believe that it is anything special that deserves kudos," he said. "Someone has to give blood. I just do what I can."

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