Appomattox man gives gift of life through platelet donations

January 6, 2012

Appomattox man gives gift of life through platelet donations

Every two weeks, Phillip Bass Lucado of Appomattox settles into a recliner chair and lets people stick rather large needles into each arm so a filtering machine can harvest some of his blood platelets.

Within five days, the platelets Lucado donates will be giving someone a longer lease on life — a cancer patient, perhaps, or an accident victim who has bled profusely from an injury.

Platelets are the part of blood that helps it to clot.

Lucado, 57, wears the nickname “Luck” on his ID badge at the Babcock & Wilcox plant on Mount Athos Road. He’s worked there for more than 20 years, and now operates the recycling program for manufacturing waste.

“When I was in high school, we did a questionnaire, and there were maybe 100 questions on it. It pointed out that I’d be helping people,” Lucado said.

Like his father before him, Lucado began donating pints of whole blood soon after high school, and for the past 16 years he’s been making platelet donations at the American Red Cross’ Lynchburg center.

He’s donated platelets 366 times in a program called apheresis, rarely missing an opportunity under its 24-donations per-year limit.

Lucado said he has a goal to donate 1,000 times. “I’d be 81 or 82” by then, he said.

The Red Cross recognized his reaching the 350-donation milestone during its annual dinner for platelet donors in November.

Lucado is able, in a single donation, to provide twice the amount of platelets needed for a therapeutic dose. That means nearly 800 people have benefited from his gifts.

“I’m glad I’m still healthy enough to help someone out,” Lucado said.

He said platelet donors “are just hoping that somewhere, we are saving someone’s life,” Lucado said.

There are about 1,500 platelet donors meeting the needs of cancer patients and other people among a 1.3 million population in the Red Cross’ Appalachian Region, which covers 46 counties in Virginia and southeasternWest Virginia.

“Philip is our top donor in the Lynchburg area,” said Jennifer Cockram, a Red Cross spokeswoman.

“Platelets only have a shelf life of five days after donation, and they fly off our shelves as fast as our donors can donate them,” Cockram said.

Only five people in the territory from Lynchburg to Beckley, W.Va., have reached the 350-donation milestone, Cockram said. Four of them are from the Roanoke area.

The platelet, or apheresis, program started in Roanoke in 1987, six years before it began in Lynchburg.

Platelet donors, who come into Red Cross drawing centers at appointed times, typically spend about two hours making a donation. The first half hour is taken up with routine paperwork and swabbing the needle sites on each arm with iodine to prevent infections.

Once the needles are in place, donors are covered with an electric blanket. Most of them watch movies on DVD while the machine collects the platelets and returns the remaining blood components, along with some saline, back to the donor.

Lucado said that when people notice his arms right after he’s donated, with band-aids covering the needle pricks, the question they most often ask is: “How much did you get paid?”

“I ain’t doing it for money,” he said.

“I’ve been lucky all my life,” he said, partly because of deep family roots in Appomattox County. One of his grandfathers, Littleton “L.T.” Lucado, bought a farm in the county’s Vermillion Road area in 1918, and it has stayed in family hands ever since.

His other grandfather, Claude Bass, owned a farm in Halifax County, and both grandfathers were able to hold onto their property during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Lucado said.

“They were two people in my life who kind of inspired me,” he said.

“They were calm people. Nobody ever gave them anything,” he said.

Questions about the apheresis program can be answered at 1-66-353-1030.