DAYTON, Ohio – John Twarek looked over at the man seated next to him in the automated donor room wearing a vintage Community Blood Center (CBC) “Octoberfest” t-shirt and a Dayton Dragons ball cap. Both men were connected by surgical tubing to apheresis machines as they donated blood components. “This is the first I’ve ever done this,” John said. “This is my 599th time,” the man in the Dragons cap replied.
When CBC’s top active donor Wendell Clark makes his milestone 600th donation Thursday, Oct. 24 at the Dayton CBC Donor Center there will be a bit more fanfare. But on Monday, Oct. 21 his 599th was just another plasma donation Wendell scheduled as a make-up for a missed appointment.
“Oh my goodness. Wow!” said John as he took in the enormity of Wendell’s blood donation history. John is by no means a rookie. His first apheresis donation represented his milestone 20th lifetime blood donation. “I’ve done whole blood all the time,” he said. “They asked this evening if I had the chance to do apheresis this time and I said, OK.’”
Like Wendell, John is an AB-positive blood type, the universal platelet donor (anyone in need can receive their platelets). They both chuckled at the notion that this chance encounter was a bit like “Grasshopper” sitting at the knee of the Zen Master of blood donations.
Wendell is a veteran donor who carefully maps out his schedule. If he stays healthy (and the 61-year old usually does) he is eligible to make up to 24 platelet donations a year. He’ll work in another half dozen plasma donations. “I kind of wanted my 600th donation to be a platelet donation,” he said. After he completes it, he won’t be eligible to donate platelets again until Dec. 6.
Wendell lives in Lewisburg and works at Neaton Auto Products Manufacturing in Eaton. His appointment routine is to go directly from work to the Dayton CBC. A sudden call for overtime nearly forced him to cancel his Monday appointment, which would have pushed back his 600th donation to the following week. It was overtime that had forced him to miss the original plasma appointment he re-scheduled for Monday as a make-up. He admits that as the 600 milestone nears he is anxious to reach it, even if means two time-consuming donations just three days apart.
“The first time I donated twice in a week was for that little Molly,” Wendell said. Wendell is a CMV-negative donor, meaning his blood is helpful to infants that need transfusion. Molly is a Centerville bone marrow transplant patient he helped and later met. “I remember donating twice in eight days during Christmas break for her,” he said. “And there was Melissa Stover (a heroic young hemophilia patient who benefited from the clotting agent cryoprecipitate made from Wendell’s plasma). That’s when I really started donating plasma a lot more.”
Wendell has long been focused on reaching 600 donations and beyond, but there have been times that shook his confidence. He was deferred from donating several times after starting a prostate medication that he said lowered his hematocrit (red blood cell ratio). But switching to a pre-natal vitamin with extra iron got him back on track. “The donations I missed, I made them all up,” he said. “I did notice that my fingernails grew a little faster!”
On July 25, 2011 Wendell was honored at the Dayton Dragons baseball game during a special CBC promotional night. He met the players, threw out the first pitch, and watched the game with his family from a VIP box. At the time he had made 535 lifetime donations. “My goal is to hit 600 (donations),” he said that night. “But if I can stay healthy, I can hit 800.”
As he made his 599th donation, he remembered a story from that night at Fifth Third Field. “A friend of mine asked me how I threw (the first pitch),” he said. “I said, ‘Just like a regular pitch.’ Then he said, ‘You didn’t lob it?’ and I said, ‘Heck no!’”
That’s the history of CBC’s “Iron Man” donor Wendell Clark. When it comes to supporting CBC and helping save lives he will always give his best pitch. And he delivers.