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Blood donor recognized for lifetime of giving

Jim Peirson was honored with a plaque by The American Red Cross for donating 50 gallons of platelets.

It was not a Purple Heart or the Presidential Citizens Medal or even an Employee of the Month award that New Richmond native Jim Peirson received earlier this month.

Just above the iconic Red Cross the placard reads, " gratitude for your extraordinary personal commitment to helping sustain the lives of countless patients through your own generous donation of 50 gallons of platelets, January 2013."

Peirson remembers the first time he gave blood.

"It was my junior year at New Richmond High School," he said. "Faculty member Chuck Mehls' Health Careers class and WITC sponsored a blood drive at the high school. Mr. Mehls, the master motivator, was working the halls during lunch hour recruiting donors. He approached a group of us and said, 'Men your community needs you, unless 'you boys' are afraid of a little needle.' It worked and that's how I got started giving blood."

Peirson began a career as a salesman with Friday Canning Corporation many years ago. Numerous acquisitions later, he finds himself still working as a salesman but for Manitowoc-based Lakeside Foods, serving the frozen and canned vegetable market from New York to California.

"I'm fortunate. I have a lot of experience. I've been around a long time," he said. A family man, Jim's wife Beverly works as a teacher in Amery and he has two daughters, Kate, who lives in Willowbrook, Ill. and Kari, a senior at Gustavus Adolphus College. "They're why I do this."

Though he started by giving whole blood, for the past 20 years Peirson has been commuting once a month to the Red Cross Collection Center in St. Paul where he donates platelets using a process called aphaeresis.

According to the Red Cross, during aperies, "blood is drawn from the donor into an aphaeresis machine which separates the blood using a centrifuge into its components, retains some of the platelets, and returns the remainder of the blood to the donor."

The whole process takes about two hours. Platelets are small blood components that help the clotting process by sticking to the lining of blood vessels. Patients who need platelets are often undergoing chemotherapy or organ transplants and have weakened immune systems. Even if a person donates platelets, you can still make regular whole blood or double red cell donations. One platelet donation can be worth from 12 to 18 whole blood donations. A donor can donate platelets up to 24 times per year, twice as often as you can donate whole blood.

Peirson applauds the aphaeresis staff.

"They are wonderful people. They bend over backwards for you," he said. "It kind of like 'Cheers,' everybody knows your name. I'm just the tip of the iceberg; they have some very, very loyal donors. I've made some good friends there. You meet other donors and find you're on the same wavelength."

What's the hardest part of donating? "Making time to do it," he admitted.

Donating helps keep life in perspective for Peirson.

"When I check in, they have a whiteboard that gives you an idea about where that product is going," he said. "It's pretty humbling looking at the board and seeing a list of 10 - 12 recipients listed by age, gender and health issue. For instance, last time it included a 2-year-old with a specific issue. It's heart-warming."

Fifty gallons is a lot of platelets and represents a distinguished career of giving. Is it enough for Peirson?

"The demand is still there and I'm still healthy," he said. "I'll just keep up the same routine and continue to be thankful."

Nationwide, someone needs a unit of blood every 2 to 3 seconds.

American Legion Butler-Harmon Post 80 and the American Red Cross are hosting an upcoming blood drive: Thursday, Jan. 17, between noon and 6 p.m. To make an appointment call Coordinator Stanley Ames at 715-246-4128 or 715-781-4848 or access the Red Cross web site at: www.redcross