By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published January 6, 2011
The season of giving took on a whole new meaning for Holy Cross Church when 190 of its members rolled up their sleeves and donated the gift of life—blood.
On Saturday, Dec. 11, the parish hall was converted into a donation center, where some 60 parish volunteers and 30 American Red Cross workers from Athens, Gainesville, Rome and metro Atlanta assisted donors. Spanish-speaking volunteers and two Spanish-speaking nurses were among those on hand.
The Bob Buechner Blood Drive was the first for Holy Cross’ newly formed Blood Donation Ministry. Buechner, who died in 1998, was a longtime parishioner whose life revolved around his family and his faith. The drive and new ministry are the vision of parishioner and St. Pius X High School athletic director Mark Kelly. Buechner was Kelly’s father-in-law. He’s been married to Beuchner’s oldest daughter, Linda, for over 30 years.
In preparation for the drive, volunteers made calls, garnered food and raffle donations, marketed the event and registered potential donors. Donations from Wildflour, Chick-fil-A and Panera Bread allowed them to feed all the workers breakfast and lunch. Additional donations from Chick-fil-A and neighborhood Galaxy Diner let them give every donor a free sandwich. A host of businesses provided raffle donations, which included over 20 prizes for donors. To ensure a successful drive, every donor was notified twice by e-mail and twice by phone to remind them of their appointment time.
The Blood Donation Ministry reached out to the Hispanic community, too. Among the many who responded, at least five people who spoke no English at all were moved to give a pint for the cause.
Kelly approached Father Richard Tibbetts, pastor of Holy Cross Church, in early September about starting the ministry and received his full support. Kelly is very passionate about giving blood and he has every right to be. He might not be walking around today if it weren’t for the donors he calls “angels,” who impacted his life. In the spring of 1969, Kelly had a cancerous growth removed from behind his ear during his junior year of high school at St. Pius, but the cancer returned near the end of his freshman year of college. Kelly assumed his doctor would treat the cancer with chemotherapy or radiation, or possibly both. To his surprise the cancer had reached an incurable point, and he was given six months to two years to live.
His parents sought a second opinion from the UCLA Medical Center (today know as the John Wayne Cancer Institute), but the doctors came to the same diagnosis. Upon Kelly’s return to Atlanta he received an invitation from Emory University to participate in an experimental cancer treatment program.
During his biweekly visits to the Emory Cancer Clinic for an injection, Kelly was treated and befriended by Dr. Douglas Murray. Within two years, Kelly was cancer free.
“I know the medicine was powerful, but I will always believe that Dr. Murray was my medicine. He was my angel,” said Kelly.
Kelly was the fortunate one. The other 12 people in the experimental group managed to get an extension on their lives, but did not survive. While Kelly credits the medicine and Dr. Murray, he is equally thankful for all the unknown individuals who took the time to donate blood that was readily available during his treatment.
In 1984 Kelly was married, raising a family, and teaching and coaching basketball at his alma mater St. Pius when one early morning in July he went to the hospital for what was first thought to be appendicitis. After the surgery doctors informed him that he had actually ruptured his colon. They removed a section of his colon, but nearly a week later during his post-surgery stay in the hospital he contracted a very rare and serious infection. Kelly spent the next four months in the hospital, went to surgery 18 times and was on a respirator.
“The doctors told Linda that I was too sick to live and I was not going to make it,” said Kelly. “I lived because of the angels in my life.”
His family never stopped believing and praying for him. Once again, Kelly says the doctors and nurses at Emory were his angels, but that he also lived because when he needed blood, it was available. He received 133 units of blood during his hospital stay, and during one eight-hour period he received 42 units of blood.
“Every weekday we need to have 1,200 blood and platelet donations to meet the needs of the more than 120 hospitals we serve,” said April Phillips, communications associate with the American Red Cross, Southern Blood Services Region.
Kelly shared his story with the Holy Cross congregation during all Masses Nov. 13-14 to encourage parishioners to sign up. Parishioner Cecilia Forbes admits she gets queasy at the sight of blood and she had not given in 20 years. It had been so long her name was no longer in the database, but she was one of the hundreds of people who showed up to donate a pint of blood Dec. 11.
“Mark Kelly was so moving and inspiring, I felt compelled to give after his talk,” said Forbes.
“I have a fear of needles, but the thought of sharing and saving lives gave me the courage to do it,” said first-time blood donor Bing Kampen. “It was my way of giving back for all the blessings I’ve received, and after the experience I feel complete.”
The inaugural Bob Buechner Blood Drive collected 164 units of blood during one of the most critical times of the year. The American Red Cross suffers its greatest blood shortage between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. According to the American Red Cross one pint (unit) of blood can help save up to three lives; consequently, the Holy Cross community will help save up to 492 lives.
Robert Buechner Jr., the sixth of seven Buechner children, was one of the many family members on hand who donated blood or volunteered during the drive.
“It was special to walk into the donation area. There were so many Red Cross workers and community volunteers that gave their time to make this happen,” said Buechner. “Dad would have been most satisfied just to see people giving to others. Not all of the people who signed up or helped were able to donate. They were ready though, and that makes them all special.”
Bob Buechner organized a blood drive for Kelly when he was sick.
“This seemed like the perfect way to honor him,” said Kelly.
The Blood Donation Ministry plans to conduct two drives a year, one around Christmas and one around Easter. It is Kelly’s dream to see every parish in the archdiocese have a Blood Donation Ministry.