It’s happened to Hertha Holstein a few times over the years, but the occasional fainting spell isn’t going to keep her from donating blood. In fact, for more than 30 years Holstein has been spearheading blood drives in Forest Park and the 78-year-old churchgoer still gives the gift of life every chance she gets.
“I think a lot of people don’t like to see blood and a lot of people don’t like to have a needle stuck in them,” said Holstein, a lifelong parishioner at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. “They’re afraid they’ll faint. I did, I fainted a couple times. They just put you on a table.”
On Sunday Holstein was at it again, coordinating one of three blood drives held annually at the same church where she was baptized nearly eight decades ago. A former school teacher, Holstein’s attentiveness to area blood supplies stems from an understanding of the important role that donors play. Both she and her husband, also a frequent donor, have been recipients as have other members of their family.
Tammy Winchester helps manage the blood supply for the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago and has worked with Holstein for years. Blood banks are not a “stable industry,” said Winchester, and must constantly shift what is available to where it is needed. The blood collected at St. John’s on April 20 will stay within the metropolitan area, but there’s no guaranteeing which neighborhood a donor’s contribution will end up.
There is, however, a process through which blood can be donated to a specific person. Life Source, another non-profit blood supplier in Chicago that Holstein has worked with, offers a program called “directed donations.” With a doctor’s prescription, family and friends can donate blood to treat a specific patient.
It was the need of a church parishioner who had been in a car crash more than 30 years ago that first prompted Holstein to organize a blood drive. Interest in the congregation and surrounding community has faded somewhat over time, but St. John’s routinely sees 20 to 25 donors at each event.
“So we just kept going at it,” Holstein said. “When I get the cat by the tail I don’t let go.”
With Holstein at the helm, St. John’s plays host to three blood drives annually, and for many years held quarterly drives. A single pint of blood can be used to treat up to three patients, according to the American Red Cross.
Henry Meier and his wife Erin, both of Westchester, are regulars at St. John’s and were following Henry’s father’s lead on Sunday. The elder Meier is another regular donor, but for Erin, Sunday was her first time.
Henry Meier donates a pint at least every year, he said.
For the last five years Allen Parish, of Cicero, has been a regular donor and was there Sunday to make his usual contribution. His decision to begin donating blood wasn’t spurred by any one event, he said, but because hospitals never know when the next patient will come through the door, “it’s always handy” to have a steady supply.
“[The needle] doesn’t faze me,” Parish said. “I’m an old pro.”