During this, National Blood Donor Month, Bernstein reflected on her decades of donating blood and platelets and what it has meant for her.
“It’s just so easy to do and it’s so necessary that people have this blood,” she said Tuesday, January 12. “There’s no substitute. You’re helping people.”
A former physical education teacher who lived in Madeira Beach for 35 years and in South Pasadena for the past 15, she made her first donation on April 8, 1977. She’s sure of the date because she has kept detailed records of her donations.
She was really more interested in learning her blood type, she admits, but her experience was a positive one, and says she didn’t faint or pass out as some people do. So a year later she started donating whole blood the maximum number of times allowed per year, which is six, at eight-week intervals. Each donation of whole blood takes about 15 minutes.
At the end of 1989, when she was nearing retirement and had more time, she began making platelet donations, which require donors for sit attached to a machine for about two hours. She felt donating platelets was more helpful since people can donate much more frequently and platelets, which help stop bleeding, are critical for people like cancer patients. One platelet donation produces the same number of platelets as would be recovered from six to eight whole-blood donations pooled together.
“I wanted to donate platelets all the time because you can do it 24 times a year,” she said.
Daniel Eberts of the Community and Donor Relations department at OneBlood in St. Petersburg called Bernstein’s 122-gallon donation “quite amazing.”
Since World War II, he said, millions of Floridians have donated blood, “but less than 100 men and women have given 100 gallons or more.”
“She’s our highest-gallon female donor in Tampa Bay,” he said.
So Bernstein, who at 77 still plays tennis and pickle ball, couldn’t believe it when she went to donate last July 20 and was told her blood pressure had skyrocketed and that she needed to seek immediate medical attention. (All donors have their blood pressure, pulse, temperature, iron count and cholesterol checked before donating.) She ended up in the hospital for more than a week for a heart condition she didn’t know she had and underwent a procedure to correct her heart’s rhythm.
“If I had not been there to donate that day, how would I ever have known that my pulse was up?” she asked. “If it had gotten higher and higher, I think I would have had a stroke.”
Today, Bernstein, who moved to Seminole in December, has recovered and is back to donating whole blood. But she is no longer able to donate platelets.
Asked how she feels about her lifetime achievement of donating 122 gallons, she says: “I’m happy about it, but I’m sad that I can’t keep going 24 times a year.”
For more information on donating, visit oneblood.org or call 888 9DONATE (888.936.6283) toll free.