Resident Rich Pearl relaxes during a recent blood product donation at the American Red Cross.  Pearl recently surpassed the 100 gallon donation mark.

Donor Gives Life with Every Drop

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Thursday February 03, 2011

Ready with a cup of coffee and a movie, Rich Pearl takes his seat in the recliner and offers up a vein, as he has for the past 37 years.  Pearl, a blood donor for the American Red Cross, recently surpassed 100 gallons of blood product donations, a milestone very few individuals will reach in a lifetime.  Once an 18-year-old college student motivated to give in exchange for food, Pearl is now a 55-year-old man giving selflessly to save lives, though he admits the free cookies are a bonus.

Pearl began his journey by giving whole blood donations, sitting for up to three hours per visit.  Thanks to advances in medical technology, Pearl now donates platelets, the tiny cells that help control bleeding, through a process called Apheresis (A-fur-EE-sis).  The blood is drawn through a small needle in one arm, cells are separated, and the unused components are returned to the donor in the other arm.   “I feel so used,” jokes Pearl, whose one platelet donation is potentially equivalent to 12 to 18 whole blood donations. 

In just two hours, Pearl, considered a universal platelet donor with his type A positive blood, can give a triple product, helping one patient in need of three products or three separate patients in need of one.  Platelets are most often used to prevent post-operative bleeding after heart surgery or in cancer and leukemia patients because chemotherapy can inhibit bone marrow from producing platelets.  Since platelets replenish easily in healthy individuals, Pearl is able to donate every two weeks.

“People always ask me why I do it,” said Pearl, a South Burlington resident eager to be the first donor to reach 200 gallons.  “It’s the way I give.  Everyone should be able to give in some way.”

Platelets, which have a shelf life of five days—two of which are used up with testing to be certain the product is safe for distribution— are collected seven days a week at the donor center at 32 North Prospect Avenue in Burlington. 

“Rich is quite remarkable,” said Priscilla King, apheresis coordinator for the American Red Cross Blood Services who relies on dedicated donors such as Pearl to meet the daily goal of 31 products.  “We have approximately 700 platelet donors and fewer than five have achieved the 100 gallon mark.  Rich always has a good joke and helps to make a first time donor feel at ease.”

Pearl, who received a donut to celebrate the 100-gallon milestone, says he’ll continue to donate as long as his body allows, knowing with age his platelet count will diminish.  Until then, he’s proud to be among the Apheresis platelet donors making the difference in countless lives. 

To learn more about donating blood, or to make a blood donation appointment, call the American Red Cross at 1-800-RED-CROSS or visit

SOURCE: Lisa Osbahr, Correspondent