He was a young airman when he first rolled up his sleeve to donate blood, and Craig Ticknor — now age 72 — has been doing it ever since.
“The first time I gave blood was in 1969, when I was in the Air Force,” recalls Ticknor, a frequent donor for an astonishing five decades. “That’s when I found out ‘Hey, it’s no big deal, giving blood.’ So I continued after I got out of the military … when we would have a blood drive at church, in the community, I gave regularly.”
Now a familiar and beloved face around The Blood Connection’s center in Greenwood, Ticknor most often donates “double reds” — a procedure that allows him to contribute two units of red blood cells in a single donation. What’s more, he’s prized as a “universal donor,” with O-negative blood that can be used to save anyone’s life, regardless of his or her own blood type. Only 7% of the population are type O negative but their donations are vital for emergency situations or when a patient’s blood type is unknown.
“I try to give every time I’m (eligible) for it,” Ticknor says, explaining that there are four different types of donations: whole blood, plasma, platelets, and red cell. “Double reds only takes about 35-45 minutes. It’s just an easy thing to do — and there are a lot of people who need this blood.”
Indeed there are — and Shontrell Vereen of Piedmont is one of them.
“I need eight people to donate (a unit of red blood cells) every three weeks for me to live my life,” says Vereen, who requires treatment every 21 days to combat sickle cell anemia, an inherited — and painful — condition characterized by misshapen hemoglobin that inhibit adequate flow of blood and oxygen throughout the body. “It means so much that loyal donors take time out of their own busy lives to make such a difference in mine.”
Currently, there’s no cure, but regular transfusions of healthy red blood cells — the type that Ticknor donates — allow Vereen to enjoy a more normal life by minimizing the chronic pain, debilitating fatigue and frequent infections that are common to sickle cell disease. Left untreated, the blood disorder can lead to serious complications such as stroke, organ damage and blindness.
“Because of The Blood Connection, I’m able to play with my kids outside and be more present in their lives,” says Vereen, the father of two girls, age 6 and 12. “Every time I get my red blood cell exchange, I think about the people who have donated to help me. I’m eternally grateful.”
While the need for live-saving blood products never lessens, winter’s drop in temperature creates a corresponding drop in donations due to weather-related traffic disruptions such as ice and snow, seasonal colds and flus, and other winter woes. And that’s not cool.
“We rely on loyal donors, especially this time of year,” says Allie Van Dyke, partnerships and media coordinator at The Blood Connection. “A snow or ice storm might shut down collection efforts on a given day — but that’s a day when recipients like Shontrell still count on donations. So we encourage the community to give blood as soon and as often as they can on clear days, to keep us covered.”
The Blood Connection must collect more than 500 units of blood per day to meet the 34/7/365 needs of every one of the Upstate’s 23 hospitals as well as more than 45 other facilities throughout the Carolinas. In January 2019, whole blood donations averaged 512 units per day, giving the organization a very narrow margin for sudden upticks in demand — a car accident, shooting or other unexpected tragedy — during a season when unforeseen winter events can disrupt supply.
“As a community, let’s start the New Year off right by providing life-saving blood products for every patient here at home,” said Delisa English, president and CEO of The Blood Connection. “Local blood recipients are our neighbors, co-workers and loved ones, so it’s worth it to find a way to donate, especially through the winter.”