By Gordon Williams
Once every day — and sometimes more often than that — Red Cross volunteer John Trudeau drives to the Blood Donation Center on Second Street in Yakima, WA. There he helps load a delivery van with human blood and blood products bound for Memorial Hospital, three short miles away.
In transporting the load from Donation Center to hospital, John is playing a critical role in the flow of blood from donors who can spare it to hospital patients who must have it. Volunteers like John Trudeau are at the heart of a process that makes American Red Cross Blood Services work.
The Red Cross estimates that 6.8 million people in the U.S. donate blood each year, amounting to nearly 14 million units. Around 40 percent of all the collected blood flows through the Red Cross. Once collected, it goes to hospital patients undergoing surgery, cancer patients, burn and accident victims and more. Patients suffering from sickle cell anemia may need as many as 100 pints of transfused blood a year. Treating just one victim of an auto accident can consume 100 pints of blood.
That constant need for blood is why John makes at least one trip a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. “Sometimes I do it twice a day, and a few times I have made three trips in a day,” he says.
There are different blood types (Type O being the most common) and there are three major types of blood products, each with its special characteristics and uses.
- Whole blood. The red colored liquid that flows through your body, carrying oxygen and minerals. Red blood carries cells that help the body fight off infection. It specifically helps sickle cell patients combat anemia.
- Platelets. Tiny colorless blood cells that are critical to blood clotting.
- Plasma. A straw-colored liquid that holds the platelets. It helps boost blood volume and is given to trauma, shock and burn patients.
John says a typical load going to Memorial Hospital would be two boxes of whole blood and two boxes of plasma. “I have taken as many as six boxes in a trip,” he says. “Each box would hold 20 units of blood.” Most trips are made in the van, but John has used his own car as well. He keeps a light hand truck in his trunk just in case.
John first came to the Yakima blood center seven years ago, in response to a Red Cross ad for drivers. “I saw the ad and thought maybe that was something I could do,” he says. He has been there ever since. “It keeps me involved in something, and I like the people in the Red Cross.”
People in the Red Cross — especially Clarice Dyer, the Hospital Services Supervisor in Yakima — say they like working with John. “John’s absolute determination to not be bored with life makes me smile every day,” says Dyer.
Driving a truck is nothing new for John. He retired from Coca-Cola in Yakima in 1999 after working there for 32 years. Although he held other jobs at Coke, he drove a semi-truck for many years. “I enjoyed driving a semi,” he says.
With a pension to rely on, John began looking for volunteer opportunities. For a time, he delivered meals for Meals-on-Wheels. Later he ferried older people for Catholic Charities. Now it is the Red Cross that is gaining from his experience, commitment, and enthusiasm. Ironically, a medical condition keeps John from being a blood donor himself.
Bit by bit, the Red Cross job has evolved over the years. There was a time when he delivered blood over much of Eastern Washington. “I used to go to Wenatchee, the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla,” he says. “Now I just go to Memorial Hospital.”
The demand for blood is relentless, which is why John never takes a day off. I had a few more questions to ask, but John says my questions will have to wait. “I have another run to Memorial Hospital to make,” he says. “I have to go now.”