Familiar face: Cartersville donor reaches benchmark after 43 years of giving

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For Mary Gilreath, a college dare turned into a lifelong commitment to helping save lives through the American Red Cross. Donating blood since 1973, the Cartersville resident reached the 27-gallon mark Tuesday.

“I was a freshman in college,” Gilreath said. “It was a dare from a classmate, who dared me and two other friends to go give because he thought we wouldn’t be able to follow through with the [blood] donation. He thought one of us would faint. [It] turns out we three did fine. He’s the one who passed out. So it was a dare in college, and it’s been a lifelong habit ever since.

“[My donations were] a little slow in the beginning, but it picked up. I recognized that there is a very real need for blood donations and helping. [Donating] blood is good. There’s no reason not to. It takes about an hour to do. And a couple of people in the family have needed blood after surgery and sometimes I’ve been able to be the designated donor. Once or twice I wasn’t in the right place in the donating cycle to be able to give to them. But I just appreciate it being there, because you have no idea when you’re going to need it or why you need it. It just needs to be given and most Americans do not donate. I look for [a blood drive] every time I’m eligible, which is every eight weeks,” she said, adding she has followed this regimen for the past 25 years.

Attaining her 27th gallon at the Cartersville Community Blood Drive at the Cartersville Civic Center, Gilreath is keeping her sights set on hitting the 30-gallon milestone. She looks to achieve this goal in about four years.

“[Donating 27 gallons is] pretty important,” Gilreath said. “I never thought I’d be hitting the 27-gallon mark. When I hit 20, my goal was I’m going to aim for 30 gallons, and then we’ll re-evaluate. ... So I’m real close to that goal. Three more gallons, and I hit a 30-gallon mark, which is kind of incredible.

“... My [advice to others] is do not be afraid to go donate. It’s very easy. It’s a safe procedure, and it’s needed. It’s just really, really needed for people to give, because I think it’s about 8 percent of the population of America that gives blood for everybody. And it’s not a hard thing. Just do it, as Nike says.”

Describing Gilreath as a committed donor, Jenny Reedy — American Red Cross’ account manager for the Northwest Georgia Territory — is appreciative of her ongoing contributions.

“Mary has become a familiar face at the blood drives in Cartersville,” Reedy said. “She has been so committed to donating blood and donates whenever her 56 days come around. I have been awarding her with certificates for a number of years and just love it when I get to change the number on her certificate. ... [I] feel an overwhelming amount of gratefulness toward her and the many other donors in Cartersville who give so freely to help the lives of people they might not ever get to meet. I wish I knew of more donors who have achieved this milestone. I would love to hug and thank each and every one.

“... Having worked here for over 16 years, I have become friends and acquaintances with many of these donors. I love to see them walk into the room. It really takes a selfless person to mark on their calendar every other month to go and hold their arm out for someone to put a needle it in. Many times when you talk to donors you find out that they donate because someone in their family or one of their friends needed blood in the past. Whatever the reason, I stand in awe at their commitment and dedication to our organization.”

Generally, most individuals 17 and older — 16 with parental consent — who weigh at least 110 pounds, can donate blood every 56 days.

“We have a number of donors who donate regularly and several I have had the honor of presenting certificates to,” Reedy said. “We run the Cartersville Community Blood Drive at the [Cartersville] Civic Center on the last Tuesday of every month and collect an average of 55 pints each month.

“I think it is important for us to have a strong donor base in all areas of Georgia. You never know where you might be when you need a unit of blood. Having the blood on hand for patients in need is a very important part of what we do. People should donate because blood only lasts 35 [to] 42 days. We do not have enough blood to meet the needs of hospital patients now. We are currently in a blood shortage and that is scary because we are leading into the Labor Day holiday,” she said Tuesday. “The holidays are typically high blood usage times. This blood drive happened at the perfect time to make sure we have blood on the shelves for donors.”

Along with the offerings at Cartersville Civic Center, interested individuals can locate other public blood drives in Bartow online by searching for a specific ZIP code at www.redcross.org/blood.