Blood donor

An American Red Cross phlebotomist prepares Tom Chalmers for his latest blood donation on Wednesday at West Mead 2 Volunteer Fire Department. Chalmers reached a milestone with the donation, achieving 27 gallons of blood donated over his lifetime.

According to the American Red Cross, a human adult weighing between 150 and 180 pounds has around 1.2 to 1.5 gallons of blood in their body.

Local man Tom Chalmers has donated that amount of blood several times over, and shows no sign of stopping.

Chalmers reached a major milestone on Wednesday when his latest donation brought him to the 27-gallon mark. The 77-year-old Meadville resident donates to the Red Cross about six times a year, and has been making donations since the 1970s.

"I'll just keep going until they tell me I'm too old," Chalmers said ahead of his donation.

Chalmers' donation was made at a blood drive held at West Mead 2 Volunteer Fire Department. He is actually the sponsor for that drive, regularly organizing Red Cross blood drives at the department. In fact, before he made this most recent donation, Chalmers was volunteering with the event, helping screen people as they came in through the front door and getting them started on the process.

When asked how it felt to reach the milestone, Chalmers stayed humble. He admitted that he had lost track of how much he had donated and said he usually doesn't check where his blood goes to.

"I'm just a person who likes to give where I can," he said.

Chalmers was given a pin to commemorate his achievement, a recognition he has received many times before. He was given pins at other milestone moments, such as when he reached 5 gallons and 10 gallons donated. Chalmers has a block of wood he sticks all of the pins into, a commemorative lineup from more than five decades of donating.

At American Red Cross blood drives, a pint of blood is typically drawn from each participant. With 8 pints needed to make a gallon, Chalmers has made approximately 216 donations in order to reach the 27-gallon milestone.

Chalmers likes donating because it doesn't cost him anything and there's always a need for blood.

"I know it's kind of wishy-washy, but it's just how I work," he said.

In addition to his regular donations, Chalmers also has volunteered with the American Red Cross since 2007, working with the local disaster assistance team. The group helps people out during the first few days following a disaster, such as a house fire or flooding, by giving them funds to pay for temporary lodging and other necessities. 

He also frequently helps out with local blood drives, sometimes even going the extra mile to offer his support. Kim Michael, an account manager with the American Red Cross who works frequently with Tom, said he once even drove up to Erie to volunteer for a day.

"It's nice to have Tom because he knows exactly how it works," she said.

Chalmers' support proved invaluable for the American Red Cross when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Although he already had held his regular blood drive at the West Mead 2 VFD in March, Chalmers sponsored a second one at the end of the month after a blood drive at Allegheny College was canceled due to the lockdown.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on the Red Cross' blood supply. Many drives were canceled because of the virus, including those on college campuses and at nursing homes, which Michael said are usually some of the biggest donation locations.

Fortunately, the virus also has provided some relief. Since elective surgeries have been postponed and auto crashes are downed due to travel restrictions, the Red Cross received some reprieve on how much of its blood supply was needed.

Further, Michael said that more people have been donating than usual during the pandemic, with many first-time donors coming to drives. During Chalmers' extra drive in March, roughly half of the attendees were first-time donors and 33 units of blood were collected, with 20 units generally being considered a "good drive" marker, according to Chalmers.

"People started coming out of the woodwork," Michael said.

With COVID-19 restrictions now lifting, Michael is hopeful those first-time donors will keep coming back, especially since the Food and Drug Administration has relaxed some of the regulations on blood donation, a change which will go into effect in June. For example, people who get a tattoo will now only need to wait six months before they can donate blood, rather than a year.

Michael said any group or business interested in hosting a blood drive and has a space large enough can contact her by calling (814) 806-4937 for more information.

Sean P. Ray can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at sray@meadvilletribune.com.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.