With his grandfather as an inspiration and a tattoo as his motivation, an American man has set out to donate nine gallons of blood.
According to the Red Cross, someone in the United States needs blood every two seconds. There’s no way to get prosthetic blood or learn to live without it – it has to come from donors.
Unfortunately, only 37 percent of the US population is eligible to donate blood. But of that 37 per cent, less than 10 per cent donate blood annually, Community Blood Centre report.
Long day on the paeds ward yesterday, platelet donation today. Everyone can donate something to help someone else. Whether it’s platelets, whole blood, bone marrow or organ donation; or simply donating your time to a charity, YOU can make a difference. @NHSBT @GiveBloodNHS pic.twitter.com/jpYMFDoNU4
— Joe Rouse (@JoeRouse18) April 22, 2019
In the UK, the NHS says it needs around 200,000 new donors a year to meet demand. Statistics show that although 478,762 people registered to be blood donors in 2017 and 2018, only 150,103 new donations were made.
There is a constant, desperate need for blood, and donations can be vital in treating patients. One man who knows just how important giving blood can be is 27-year-old Josh Tappan, from Vancouver, Washington.
11 years ago, Josh lost his grandfather, Dale, after he got into a tractor accident on the family farm. The 77-year-old was taken to hospital and remained there for several days, during which time he received 72 units of blood – the equivalent of 72 pints, or nine gallons.
Josh described his grandfather as the ‘single most hard-working man’ he’d ever known. Dale served in the army for two years, and worked for 39 years between two aluminium production companies.
When he wasn’t working, he was raising his five children with his wife, Ina. Even when Dale retired, he spent his days working on the family farm, where he eventually started a Christmas tree business.
Speaking to UNILAD, the 27-year-old recalled fond memories of his grandfather, saying:
Get togethers were usually held at their house, and Grandpa Dale would greet us all in the same joyful, booming voice.
He was truly happy to see each of us every time he did.
I wish he’d lived long enough to see who I’ve become, because a lot of it is based off who he was and the lessons he instilled in my dad.
Unfortunately, despite the blood donations and the doctors’ best efforts, Dale passed away on May 11, 2008. But the transfusions were not in vain – the people who had donated the 72 units of blood gave the doctors a chance to treat the 77-year-old. Thanks to their generosity, the medics could take action.
Following Dale’s death, Josh decided to try and help others in the same way they’d helped his grandfather. He made the huge decision to donate nine gallons of his own blood – that’s six times the total amount of blood he has in his body right now – in order to give back the amount of blood that had been donated to his relative.
Explaining his decision, the American said:
I decided to donate the blood almost immediately after I heard how much he’d been given. It seemed like such a massive amount to give to one person that I wanted to ultimately restore what was lost, and I knew that spreading it out would help far more people.
It seemed like an obvious way to honor his memory to me. He’d always been the kind of person who would give a person the shirt off his back, and giving something that could potentially save someone’s life lined up perfectly with his entire life philosophy.
Though he didn’t know it at the time, Josh later discovered Dale had donated several gallons of blood in his own lifetime. The revelation reaffirmed the 27-year-old’s decision, and encouraged him to move forward with the task.
He gave his first donation when he was 16 years old, at a blood drive at his high school. He described the experience as ‘extremely easy’, consisting simply of basic questions and minor bloodwork before the blood is extracted.
But although the process of giving back the nine gallons is underway, Josh still has a long way to go. He’s donated one gallon (eight pints) to date, and even if he didn’t miss a single future donation, it would still take him close to ten years to complete the mammoth undertaking.
Speaking about the daunting task, the IT worker said:
Between my friends and family encouraging me to keep going, as well as knowing it is literally something my Grandpa Dale would have done, everything else becomes immaterial.
It stopped being a choice for me a long time ago. This is something I have to do, and will do before I die.
To help him stay focused and keep track of his donations, Josh decided to get a tattoo, but struggled to come up with the perfect way to depict his mission.
He told UNILAD:
I’d wanted to get something to track my progress and have a constant motivator, but I hadn’t figured out exactly how I wanted to do it yet.
I’d been wracking my brain for years trying to come up with a design that I liked, and that also conveyed the meaning of what I wanted to do.
After much deliberation, Josh’s mum suggested he incorporate his love of the Legend of Zelda video games into the tattoo, and the result was nine hearts, each one symbolic of a gallon of blood.
He got the tattoo on April 17, and each time he donates another gallon, Josh has a heart filled in, like an added ‘life’ in the video game. But rather than giving new strength to a computerised character, the generous man is helping to give life to real people.
Josh shared his story on Reddit, and some users were so inspired that they decided to donate blood of their own.
One person responded:
Love this story and tattoo. You inspired me to find my local Redcross. Blood donation is scheduled.
— Kath Vincent (@KathVincent4) April 17, 2019
While another wrote:
That the most wholesome tattoo I’ve seen a loooooong [sic] while. You’re doing something that’s f*cking amazing and I guessing [sic] everyone here is super proud of you for doing this. I hate needles, but I hope to be able to donate blood in the future.
Along with those Reddit users, the 27-year-old hopes his story will encourage many others to give blood, and he’s asking anyone who does donate to share their experience with the hashtag #donatefordale.
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💉 #Repost @abbieillustrate This blood bag doesn’t look like much, but this blood bag could gives someone another smile, another hug, another chance. It is the gift of life. About one in seven people entering a hospital needs blood. What if everyone eligible to donate became complacent and decided they didn't need to donate because someone else would? What if there wasn't enough donated blood available when you, a loved one – anyone – needed it? Give blood. Give love. Get biscuits. Proud to be registered donor💉🅰️➕❤️🍪❤️☕️ .. … …. ….. …… #giveblood #blooddonation #blood #donar #savinglives #savealife #blooddonar #dosomethingamazing #gooddeed #givingback #instagood #feelgood #whatsyourtype #givebloodsavelives @givebloodnhs
Making blood is easy. You can do it in your sleep. It doesn’t matter which method you choose, the hardest part about the entire process is just finding a time and place to go do it.
If the company you work for decides to have a blood drive, that cuts out both of those issues. If not, find your local Red Cross donation center, or if you have experience with another organization, schedule a donation with them.
The simple act of taking an hour or two out of your day can help save 3 people. By the time I’m done donating, those 72 units could potentially save 216 people.
There is a constant, overwhelming need for blood, and I’m happy to be doing my small part in offsetting that.
Many people avoid giving blood because they’re simply put off by the thought of it, but that shouldn’t be the case. Giving blood can save lives, and in the grand scheme of things, it comes at little cost to the donor.
In exchange for a few squeamish minutes and perhaps a little light-headedness, you could completely change someone’s life for the better. For them, your blood could be the most important gift they’ve ever received.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to [email protected]
Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.