HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- When Doug Schutte walks through the doors of the American Red Cross blood donation center in Henrico County, it begins what has become a bi-weekly ritual for the Pittsburgh native as he sets up his laptop, gets cozy under his homemade Afghan, and settles in for a few hours to donate platelets.
It is a habit that began back in 1977 when he first donated whole blood after graduating from college in New Jersey.
"I always felt that donating blood was an important part of being a human being," said 70-year-old Schutte.
He said when he moved to Virginia a few years later to become a chief investigator in the Virginia Attorney General's Office, he continued to donate. But he said he took it to the next level after a watershed moment in 1991.
"A 13-year-old at my church, Alex Kalata, was diagnosed with leukemia. In order to try to help him they were seeking individuals to become part of the bone marrow transplant program to determine whether my bone marrow could be transplanted and Alex to save his life," Schutte said. He added the cost of testing was more back then, but the precursor to the American Red Cross (Virginia Blood Services) said they would cover the cost if he donated a pint of platelets.
Schutte said he was not a match for Alex (nor could one be found and he died as a teenager), but he said he continued to donate whole blood and platelets until he was told that platelets were more in demand and began to focus on donating that (which also allowed for more frequent donations).
"I try to donate the maximum, which is 24 times a year," said Schutte (who added he is having to pack in more frequent visits to make that in 2023 as a knee surgery kept him from donating for a few months).
And that frequency can be seen on the scars on Schutte's arms and on the honor wall at the Red Cross where his name is one each of the frequent donor plaques hanging there.
He also received accolades from Virginia Blood Services before the Red Cross took over and said he was inducted into the "Society of 100", followed by the "Donor Olympian Program" (with bronze, silver, and gold medals for reaching 200, 300, and 400 donations respectively).
"And then they set a special award for 500 donations that I had reached and gave me a crystal obsoletes as the first one to 500 donations."
As of 2023, Schutte has donated over 700 times and has given 1,275 units of his blood.
"It just means that I'm saving more lives. I mean, at this point in time with 1,275 units of my blood donated I've saved a small town of people," said Schutte. "Mostly they, the platelets, go to cancer patients after they have had chemotherapy. Their immune system is compromised and it's the platelets that restore their immune system."
For the American Red Cross, which was recently warning about a shortage of donors, people like Schutte are an anchor.
"What it illustrates is just one individual who's made a lifelong commitment to making sure that patients and hospitals across the area can get the care that they need. This is what this is about. It's about saving lives," said Jonathan McNamara, Communications Director of Red Cross Virginia.
McNamara said Schutte is the top donor in Virginia by a wide margin and among the top one percent in the country.
"We think it's great, here at the Red Cross is somebody who has made this a way that they give back every two weeks to the Red Cross. And at the end of the day, more importantly, the patients where this goes to," he added.
One person who knows where donations like Schutte's end up is Dr. Kimberly Sanford, the medical director of VCU Health System's Transfusion Medicine Department and Volunteer Board Chair at the Red Cross Capital Chapter.
Sanford said each morning when her staff start the day, the first thing they take stock of is how many units of platelets they have on hand.
"Because it's the platelets on the shelf that are what we need to be able to support our patients who are receiving cancer treatments, our patients who are coming in for trauma, our patients who are undergoing organ transplantation. So, we can't rely on what's going to be coming in the door in the next couple of days. It's what are those products that are on the shelf right now that we need for our patients," said Sanford. "I really think of this as a privilege to be able to meet a donor like him, to be able to say thank you and to make a direct connection to that individual."
Schutte said while he has never met any recipient of his donations, he knows they have been sent from Georgia to Maryland and around the Commonwealth. He said he knew one chemotherapy patient responded well to his platelets in Charlottesville and the patient's doctor would request Schutte's donations.
"That was very cool," said Schutte.
And while Schutte estimates he has donated enough for a small town at this point -- maybe a county or city could be next as he has no intentions of stopping.
"I know there are people that have donated into their 80s. So, my intent is as long as I'm healthy and alive I will be donating blood."
He added that while other people do not need to donate as regularly as he does, he encourages anyone who can to roll up their sleeves and donate.
"I just want to reiterate how important it is to -- if you are eligible -- to donate, that you should donate at least a couple of times a year whole blood and if you're willing to sit down in a chair for three hours, and have any product -- white cells, red cells, double red cells, platelets -- all of those can be taken out by the automated systems that they use and now and it tremendously impacts the quality of life of those in America who are suffering from one disease or another," he said. "Just save a life. Just save a life."
You can find more information on how to donate to the Red Cross here.
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