Ted Smith gives blood as often as others might go to the movies.
As of Tuesday morning, the 68-year-old retired RCMP officer had given blood — blood type A positive — 249 times. This of course meant that the next donation would mark a milestone deserving of some attention.
But in the end, Smith could not do what he had come to do in front of family, friends, and former colleagues after a pre-screening test revealed that Smith’s blood pressure was too high.
“My blood pressure was higher than their tolerances, ” he said, while talking to reporters at the Canadian Blood Services’ donor clinic on Saanich Road near Uptown shopping centre. Following some rest, Smith’s blood pressure dropped somewhat, but not enough to safely make a donation. “They want to make sure it is absolutely safe for me,” he said.
Was it perhaps all the attention, including a small gaggle of reporters, that bumped up Smith’s blood pressure? “I’m not putting that on anybody,” he said with a smile. “It’s probably just myself. Ordinarily, I don’t feel emotional or excited about coming to the blood donor clinic, but obviously today, seeing some people I haven’t see for a number of years, it bumped it up.”
Smith for his part is taking a pragmatic view. He will first get his blood pressure checked out, then go from there.
“Maybe this is the time to have that blood pressure checked, and help me live for another 40 years,” he said. “Maybe I will be a blood donor continuously, or may be this will be the time when they say, ‘No, that’s going to be it — you are not going to make your 250.’”
Naturally, Smith is disappointed. “It’s almost like you are are playing a great round of golf right up to the 18th hole, and somebody saying, you are finished at the 17th hole. I would really like to make 250, but it is really just a number.”
Perhaps not. “It’s amazing,” said Lt.-Insp. Sean Lillis of the Saanich Fire Department, as he was giving blood himself for the 10th time. “He is an inspiration to other people to come help out. It only takes a short amount of time.” Smith, said Lillis, has helped a lot of people.
Smith’s inspiration for helping came from his mother and aunt, who served as nurses during the Second World War before they got married in Calgary and Montreal respectively. If blood banks were low, they would have to donate, said Smith. “Sometimes, they would give blood two or three times a week,” he said. Smith’s mother stayed in nursing until he was 18. “She would talk us kids into helping her to set up the clinics, move beds, that sort of stuff.”
The death of Smith’s dad during a military training exercise while preparing for military service in Korea, and his career with the RCMP also alerted him to the need for blood products.
Smith first started giving blood when he was 18 years old, and hopes that his example will inspire others to do the same. “Ordinary people, no matter what walk of life they are, can come and donate, may be help other people. It is really something super easy to do.”
While Smith acknowledges peoples’ fear about needles, the actual transfusion happens with the greatest professionalism and care.
“I really don’t feel it all,” he said. “I feel a mosquito bite in Victoria more than I feel the needles.”
Donations, he said, are completely anonymous. “But they can feel really good that their blood can be broken into a number of different components, and those components can be used for may be a little baby, or for somebody who has leukemia, or for somebody, who needs whole blood after a car crash.”
Smith’s appeal for more blood donors occurs against the backdrop of factors that will increase the demand for blood products, while shrinking the supply.
As Canadian society ages and medical treatments become more sophisticated, the need for blood will increase, just as the available base of health adult donors declines relative to the overall population.
Smith, unfortunately, got a personal taste of this trend during what should have been a moment of personal satisfaction.