Published: Oct 30, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Oct 29, 2011 05:13 PM
John Hart of Fuquay-Varina had a feeling something was afoot last weekend, but he didn't know what.
He figured his children, spread out all over everywhere, would have a few local friends show up and take him out to dinner to celebrate his 80th birthday.
Instead, his children arrived from London, Chicago, New Jersey and Cary and, along with a dozen friends, surprised him with a catered birthday affair.
Was it the surprise of his life when he walked in and saw that all five of his children had shown up?"Oh yeah. I wasn't expecting anything like that," he said.
Fortunately, it was no surprise when Hart himself showed up and gave the gift of life at Rex Hospital on Monday, his actual birth date.
Hart has been donating blood for more than 50 years, and he's not about to stop simply because he is now an octogenarian.
"I started in my 20s," he told me Monday. "I did it in answer to a need. They were always asking, and I just saw it as my way of giving back."So did many people of Hart's era, said Emilie Sanders Watson, the donor services coordinator for Rex Hospital. "It's relatively unusual" for people as old as Hart to donate blood, she said, "but years ago it wasn't. The World War II generation - the Greatest Generation - was the largest single group of donors ever. They did it out of a sense of community."People from that generation, she noted, are dying at a rate of about 1,000 a day, and subsequent generations haven't extended their arms as consistently. That's too bad, she said, because "there is no difference if you're healthy" between the blood of a 30-year-old and an 80-year-old.
Hart, a former public school teacher and attorney on Long Island, is not just a treasured donor because he is hale and hearty and willing, but also because he is what's known in the blood business as a "universal donor."
"I'm O negative, the universal blood type, so I was always getting calls" to come and donate, he said.
Watson said less than 12 percent of the population is O negative. "Anyone can use that type safely," she said. "They're called 'baby donors' because their blood is used primarily for infants who haven't developed antibodies, but it's also used for surgery and illnesses."
Hart said he allowed Rex to publicize his contribution because "There's a dire need, and people will say, 'If an 80-year-old man can do it, they can, too.' "
His sense of humor is still intact; he solemnly informed me that I, personally, wouldn't be interested in a transfusion of his blood.
And why not, pray tell?
"Because I'm an Irish-Catholic conservative."
And I'm not, boyo?
I assured him that if I ever saw my sanguine fluid seeping out, the last thing I'd be concerned about is the political persuasion of a prospective donor. Or receiver.
And neither should you. To be part of a great generation and give blood, call Rex at 919-784-4750 or go to www.rexhealth.com
or call the American Red Cross at 800-733-2767 or visit www.redcross.org