“I want to pay it forward. Blood is precious,” Rick Dunbar of Ocean Park, WA concluded after he finished detailing the harrowing experience he had back in 2000. It’s what inspired him to become an avid blood donor. Close to 22 years ago, Rick, a now-retired IT specialist, went through a 5-way coronary artery bypass surgery. “My procedure was rocky, and I needed 21 pints of blood to get through it,” said Rick.

His anything-but-routine surgery all began with what he assumed was regular fatigue and pain from playing hockey. Rick, an ardent hockey player, was playing in his recreation league one evening after work. “I had a heart attack while playing but did not realize it. I thought it was simply exhaustion,” said Rick.

In fact, Rick’s experience is rather common. Quite often heart sufferers often mistake their heart attack event for other health problems, due to the mildness of the symptoms. According to Harvard Health, 45% of heart attacks are known as Silent Myocardial Infarction (SMI) or commonly referred to as “silent heart attacks” which frequently occur more in men than women. Most men feel exactly as Rick felt that evening. They experience extensive fatigue or general discomfort, then attribute their experience to over-working or extenuating circumstances.

November 22, 2020. Portsmouth, Virginia. Grove Church Blood Drive 2020. Photos by Jared Beasley/American Red Cross

It was not until after the hockey game about two days later when Rick thought something might be wrong. Waking up in the early morning, Rick noticed a strong pain in his arm that had been persisting since the evening after his hockey game. Feeling concerned and wanting answers, he made an appointment to see his doctor.

At his doctor visit, Rick was informed that he had indeed suffered a heart attack. Promptly, his doctor scheduled him for an emergency surgery. The surgery team had to perform a 5-way coronary artery bypass. Being a rather intense and difficult procedure, Rick was on the table for several hours. The procedure was strenuous on the surgical team, but even moreso on Rick’s body. He was transferred to the ICU for recovery where he remained for 15 days, many of which were spent in a coma. During that time, Rick required around-the-clock care from a team of nurses and doctors.

After about twenty years in full recovery from his heart attack, Rick has given close to three gallons of blood. His inspiration to give “were the talented people that got me through that medical crisis,” said Rick. The regular donations provide equal benefits to patients like him and to healthcare professionals. 

Readily available blood is a crucial resource that health professionals need to help patients recover. The selfless donations from other blood donors and tireless work of his care team have allowed Rick to enjoy his retirement to the fullest.

You too can help someone like Rick through a medical crisis with a simple donation. To find a blood drive in your area, go to http://www.redcrossblood.org. Anyone 16 years old or older, and in generally good health, can donate blood. There is no upper age limit for giving blood; you can donate no matter how old you are. Someone will be saying “thank you” in return.

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