Jonesboro, Ark. — A baseball player stepping up to the plate understands the significance of a grand slam. With bases loaded, the pressure to be the team’s hero rests on the batter’s shoulders. American Red Cross platelet donor Shaun Brennan didn’t have to wield a bat to become a hero and hit his grand slam. He simply rolled up a sleeve in the hopes of helping save lives.
Brennan dedicated his Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays, the grand slam of donations, to giving platelets to help patients the Red Cross serves. On Jan. 1, 2014, the beginning of National Blood Donor Month, Brennan marked his 332nd donation.
“Saving lives through donating is very important to me,” Brennan said. “At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if my blood has been received by patients living on all seven continents across the world. The need for blood is worldwide.”
Brennan may have a better understanding of that need than most. He’s worked at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., for nearly 15 years. Some of his 332 donations have even been transfused to patients his employer serves. Blood products are often used by patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments and those with chronic illnesses.
“It’s amazing, because St. Jude is a special place to work,” he said. “I know that at one point I was a primary donor for a 17-year-old leukemia patient. He had a number of bone marrow transplants and was on dialysis. It just so happened that my platelets were a great match for him. It was amazing to learn that 15 of my donations were making a difference in his life.”
Throughout the years, Brennan has donated to a variety of hospitals and blood banks. He began donating to the Red Cross because of its wide reach and its mission to serve patients whenever and wherever they might need blood. But it wasn’t without effort and commitment. For each donation, he travels 170 miles round trip, between Memphis and the Jonesboro Blood Donation Center.
“It’s the easiest 170 miles I ever drive. And it’s not about finding time to do this, it’s about making time for it,” he said. “When it comes to helping save lives, there’s nothing more important than that.”
Brennan sees himself not only as a dedicated donor, but an advocate for the process. He uses his Facebook page to consistently update friends, co-workers and the community about his donation experiences, hoping to recruit others to help out.
“The statistics show that about 40 percent of people are eligible to donate blood, but only a fraction of them donate,” Brennan said. “I’m just one person, and I’ve been able to contribute what I have. But no matter what I do individually, it’s not nearly as powerful as what we could do collectively.”
And his outreach is having an impact. Comments on his Facebook page include those like the one posted by a senior director of St. Jude that reads, “I talked to someone today who has decided to donate blood for the first time EVER because they were inspired by you! That's pretty cool!"
The chief administrative officer also chimed in regarding Brennan’s efforts emailing, “This is wonderful, Shaun. How special you are to the world.”
“Inspiring others to give means the world to me,” Brennan said. “I look at this as a three-part approach: donating the blood, sharing my experiences and promoting the benefits.”
And the benefits, Brennan said, outweigh any perceived inconvenience.
“A lot of people talk about how they don’t have time, don’t like needles or don’t like blood. I’m a busy guy. I don’t really like needles, and I don’t really like blood,” he said. “But I overlook that, because the bigger picture is about the person I’m helping, the life I could be saving. When you add it all up, there’s no comparison.”
Another misconception, Brennan said, is that donating somehow keeps people from being involved in the activities they love.
“I’m an avid runner. I run daily, and even on days where I’ve donated platelets I have been able to go for a run afterwards. I haven’t taken a sick day in 28 years. I play on the hospital sports team,” he said. “Donating doesn’t prevent me from doing a single activity I want to be involved in.”
Perhaps his biggest endeavor now is encouraging others to get involved.
“I don’t see why anyone who could donate wouldn’t. So many of us dream of being heroes or making a difference, and you can do that by becoming a blood donor.”
How to donate blood
Simply call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or visit redcrossblood.org to make an appointment or for more information. All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients. A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental consent in some states), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.
About the American Red Cross
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.