Blood brothers share giving spirit

After more than three decades, pair of pals continue to donate platelets

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 

To donate

Those who are interested in donating platelets should begin with a whole blood donation. When making a donation, let the staff know you’re interested in donating platelets. They’ll run a platelet count test and check other requirements to determine whether you’re a good candidate, said Karen Ellis, apheresis operations manager for the American Red Cross’ Pacific Northwest region.

To make a blood donation appointment with the Red Cross, visit http://www.redcross.org or call 800-RED-CROSS.

photoChildhood friends Teddy Peetz, left, and Bill McGinnis donate blood platelets at the American Red Cross Portland Donor Center on Thursday. McGinnis, of Corbett, Ore., and Peetz, of Vancouver, have met twice a month to donate platelets for more than a decade.

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photoPlatelets are colorless cell fragments that are suspended in plasma. Platelets are extracted from whole blood and used by trauma and cancer patients.

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How often do you donate blood?

  • Regularly. I have a standing appointment at the donor center. 25%
  • Sometimes. I donate during blood drives. 12%
  • Rarely. I’ve donated a few times over the years. 26%
  • Never. I don’t donate blood. 38%

69 total votes.

As children in Troutdale, Ore., Teddy Peetz and Bill McGinnis were always side by side.

They attended the same church, sat in the same classrooms and rode to school together in the McGinnis family station wagon.

As 68-year-old retired men, Peetz and McGinnis are still side by side — at least for a few hours every other Thursday.

The childhood friends meet twice a month at the American Red Cross Portland Donor Center, sit in neighboring beds and spend 2½ hours donating blood platelets.

It’s a decades-old tradition the duo have no intention of ending.

“People go to coffee every week,” McGinnis said. “We come here.”

“It’s our social club,” Peetz added.

It’s a social club that benefits more than just McGinnis and Peetz.

Donated platelets are often used for trauma patients, during surgeries and for organ transplants. They may be given to cancer patients after chemotherapy treatment, said Karen Ellis, apheresis operations manager for the Pacific Northwest region of the Red Cross.

“The need is constant,” she said.

Peetz and McGinnis had been regular whole-blood donors when the Red Cross started the platelet program in Portland in the 1970s. When the Red Cross solicited donors, Peetz and McGinnis signed up.

“They promised better coffee and better cookies,” Peetz joked.

At the time, the childhood friends had been donating individually. But one morning, they showed up for their platelet donations at the same time. From then on, they’ve scheduled donor sessions together every other Thursday.

Donation is easy for Peetz and McGinnis.

“You get plugged in, and it’s like milking a cow,” said Peetz, who lives in Vancouver.

Whole blood contains red cells, white cells and platelets suspended in plasma. Platelets are colorless cell fragments that serve as the clotting factor in blood.

A machine draws the donor’s blood through a needle in his or her arm. The blood spins in a centrifuge that pulls the red cells to the outer edge. A cone-shaped device in the centrifuge extracts the platelets and funnels them into a bag. The plasma and red blood cells are returned to the donor’s body, Ellis said.

Depending on a donor’s platelet count, he or she can give up to three units of platelets. Peetz and McGinnis regularly give “doubles,” or two units.

Platelet donors can give once a week, with a maximum of 24 donations per year. Peetz and McGinnis max out every year.

Today, after more than 30 years of donations, Peetz and McGinnis have each donated more than 100 gallons of platelets. They each have more than 500 lifetime visits to the Red Cross.

At their Thursday visits, Peetz and McGinnis, who lives in Corbett, Ore., hook up to the machines at 6:30 a.m. By about 9 a.m., they’re done donating and move into the canteen for a few cups of coffee and some snacks.

Rather than watch TV while they donate, Peetz and McGinnis talk. They chat with Red Cross staff — one nurse discovered a rat in her home toilet, Peetz said — and banter with each other.

“I just listen to Bill’s problems,” Peetz said, shielding his mouth as if to keep McGinnis from hearing him. “He needs a lot of attention. His whole life, he’s needed extra attention.”

Only one topic is off limits: politics.

Peetz and McGinnis both stand in the middle of the political spectrum, but they approach the middle from different sides, Peetz said.

“Let’s just say, I’m not a member of the NRA (National Rifle Association),” Peetz said.

“And I’m an endowment member,” McGinnis added.

While they may get rowdy when talking politics, Peetz insists it’s “nothing a couple beers won’t work out.”

After more than 60 years, there are few things that can keep the childhood friends apart.

“After that many years, it’s like an old married couple,” Peetz said.


Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.