Many donors were squeamish when they first went to contribute, but almost all of them return, Meyer says, which shows it's not a painful process at all. In fact, drawing blood is what his experienced staff does five to six days a week. They're gentle and quick in their probes, and they also hand out very tasty cookies when they're done.
The Pleasanton clinic has a list of regular donors to call when supplies grow critically short. They give blood on average about two-to-three times a year and some have donated 150-200 times already since first starting. Healthy individuals who are 17 or older (16 with a parent's permission slip) can donate blood and the age at the other end has no limit. One recent donor at a Florida Red Cross blood collection station is 94. Which prompted Meyer to emphasize that it's increasingly likely with all of us living longer that we'll need a blood transfusion someday, if we haven't already. If there are no donors, there'll be no blood when we need it. Human blood only comes from humans; it can't be manufactured or even saved beyond a 42-day shelf life.
Meyer works with schools, churches, businesses and civic and nonprofit organizations to hold blood drives in the field. A recent interfaith drive here sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brought in 1,600 units of blood. The clinic has a mobile blood collection vehicle that often parks in shopping centers and also a truck filled with supplies that are used for day- or weekend-long blood collections. But it's the walk-in donor at the fixed collection station near Stoneridge Shopping Center who still makes the difference if Pleasanton can meet its quota each month.
Meyer seems especially skilled at achieving that target. Holding a bachelor's and a master's degree from Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., he earned an MBA at the UCLA School of Management and then spent two years with the Peace Corps in the West Indies. He then became a business consultant on a Red Cross building project in Pomona, and the rest is history. He and his wife Marisol moved to Pleasanton four months ago with their two children: Amelia, 5, a kindergartener at Walnut Grove Elementary, and Nolan, 3. When Jeff Meyer is not managing his staff of 200 from the regional blood service offices in Oakland or San Jose, he's promoting the need for more donors.
Many he's talked to at Pleasanton meetings acknowledge that donating blood just hasn't been one of their priorities. When he talks about 4 million others who are donors and that the Red Cross last year distributed 9 million blood products to some 3,000 hospitals and other facilities, he often gets their attention. He also notes that the real heroes in supplying the blood that was so urgently needed after 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina were those who had donated the week before when their blood was on the shelf at local Red Cross centers and immediately available. That's why he considers those of us who contribute blood today as tomorrow's heroes. There may be no crisis demanding that blood urgently, but it'll be there when it's needed. That's what heroes are all about, Meyer says.