On December 13th, a six-foot tall man with glasses walked into his favorite blood donation center in Dulles, Virginia and rolled up the right sleeve of his grey and black striped polo. He got his temperature, blood pressure, and iron tested. Then he checked, as he had so many times before, his platelet count. But today was not like any other platelet donation, today would be his 500th and people were literally standing by waiting for the numbers to populate the digital screen. When they did staff and donors cheered because on that day Ric Martin was going to become the single largest platelet donor in Inova’s history.
I sat down with Ric for an interview after this milestone was brought to my attention via Facebook, 162 likes and 22 comments were hard to ignore as a big deal from an agency that traditionally only received likes and comments around a dozen. I thought I would share my Q and A with you all because he had a lot to say and they are all things we should know. He offered insight into the past, some of the trends he’s noticed and after 40 years of donating he know what he is talking about. I tip my cap to you Ric and will refer to you by the name you have come to be known as at the donor center, the “Walking Talking Platelet Factory”.
Q: When did you first start donating? (Whole Blood & Platelets)
I first began donating whole blood when I turned 21 in 1973 with the American Red Cross and I gave about two gallons of whole blood there before I started donating with the local agency, Inova, in ‘76. Back then Inova’s operation was a tiny room in the basement of Fairfax Hospital. I remember that the room was rather small and anyone over 5’10“ would have to crunch up a little to allow the phlebotomist to squeeze past the beds.
First time I ever donated platelets was ‘82 and it was a Thursday. I remember because there was such a need for them at that time and I got a call asking me to come back in again 72 hours later when another donor was unable to make his appointment.
Q. We like to say that every donor has a story for why they first donated, what’s yours?
My father was a donor, so I followed in his footsteps. He was a marine before he became a D.C. Police Officer and though we never really talked about it I assume between the military and police department he had seen the need while serving his country and then community. I do know that he donated at least 17 gallons of whole blood.
Q. Speaking of family, what does it mean to know that Ashley (his daughter) is now a regular donor?
It makes me very proud; we have been able to bond over the experience. I get to see her every time she donates and I can see her doing the math in her head of what/when she “thinks” she could over take my record. She has a higher platelet count and while I have only been able to donate triples once, she does often and likes to tease me a little when she does. Keep it up, Baby, I love it!!! It is all in fun but I am very proud of her and I share in her disappointment when she is unable to donate while sick or has low iron count.
I have been doing some R&D though by asking other regular high platelet donors what they eat, drink, and do that they believe helps their count. I have heard all kinds of answers from drinking Yuengling® Lager or red wine and one says eating 6-8 ounces of dark chocolate everyday, but they have had mixed results.
Q. What message would you tell someone whose never donated before?
It is not as bad as you think and there is no down side. I recommend you consider it from the other person’s point of view, you may receive 5-10 seconds of discomfort but the person who is receiving your blood may be going through that level of pain or much worse on a constant basis.
It costs you nothing to produce what you donate, but it is priceless to the recipient. In fact, you’re on “auto pilot” and can’t stop producing. If you find an on/off switch for your blood making machine, we’ll get you a spot on “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”!!!
Oh and if you do decide to donate, make sure you eat something. I made that mistake the first time I donated and turned pale and light-headed, but never again. Hydration is also very important. I find it easier to hydrate for Whole Blood. Being in the chair much longer for platelets tends to make it harder waiting for a bathroom break.
Q. What keeps you coming back to donate?
The milestones and challenges are nice because it helps motivate me to keep going. But, primarily, it is the nagging question that eats at me, “Will it be there when it’s needed?” that should be the driving motivation for every donor.
As a Washington Redskins fan, and a regular donor, when I had heard about Sean Taylor’s death a few years ago I couldn’t help thinking “how terrible” but I also wondered if the shot that hit his leg was instantly fatal and he bled out or what if the blood he needed wasn’t available and if that shortage cost him his life, either way it was devastating but if it was because of the latter it would have been more so. The fact that only 5% of Americans donate blood contributes to worrying about blood being there when needed.
Q. You clearly take donating very personally, has there ever been a commercial or ad that you motivated to book your next appointment?
I can’t say I have, it has always been the family member blood drive in need of their kids, mothers, fellow students that make me wish I could donate more. FDA has stated that 24 times a year is their tolerance for safety but every time a drive for Friends of Sadie or Joey’s Angels comes through it tugs at my heart and makes me wish I could do more.
Q. “Will it be there, when it’s needed” is your main motivation but as we try to bring in new donors, I have to ask what has been your favorite/least favorite giveaway?
Best – was a courier bag, it has been useful; I use it all the time and is very nice quality. I like the practical items.
Least – gas cards, I just don’t use them. They are certainly effective in bringing in donors but personally they are not very meaningful.
Q. What is it that a blood collection agency can do to keep you coming back?
Simple, have good phlebotomists. They should invest the time to properly train their staff; a donor only needs one bad donation experience for them to consider never donating again. Personally, I have never seen/had a bad stick from an Inova “phleb”, and, I’ve seen/felt a bunch. Its says a lot about the trainers in this organization.
Q. As a person who has spent over 1,000 hours with the staff I can see your point, so when you aren’t being attended to what do you do to keep yourself entertained?
When I started donating platelets during the first generation of the instruments it was a “mini-ordeal” and you just had to endure. I would sit there with needles in both of my arms, as staff would manually turn the instruments on and off when they were ready for the next cycle. Today it is all in one vein from one arm so by comparison it’s “chill time”. At my center, we have DVDs and Wi-Fi so I’ll read an eBook from my tablet, play some FarmTown, watch a movie, or just listen to music. It has become so simplified that donors could work while donating. I’ve told people I donate platelets and they look at me like I’m “Superman”. If they only knew how effortless it it!!!
Q. When do you think you’ll retire the veins?
When I either physically can’t donate or the need no longer exists
Does your agency have a Ric?
Ric Martin, is a blood collection agency’s dream donor. He not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk. He proudly wears his donor t-shirts, he shares his story and does his part to convert the masses.
On the business side Ric Martin’s total donations are worth well over half a million dollars for the agency with which he donates. I encourage all of you to think about his words and testimony because they come from experience.
Take the time to train your staff properly, reward those who get great donor feedback. They are the face of your organization and in all reality your future. Ric’s first donation did not go well back in 1973 because he hadn’t eaten but had the staff member not reassured him and taken care of his concerns there is a very real possibility this article never would have been written and he and his daughter could have missed out on this unique bond that they now share.
Water is not the only liquid that ripples when touched.
Indebted to the donors, mentor to marketers,