A legacy of giving

By J.D. Brink, American Red Cross volunteer

I first gave blood because my father had given.

He gave because my sister had leukemia.

He may have given blood before that, but I was too young to know. On Labor Day 1986, my sister Ashley was diagnosed with leukemia at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Toledo. She was three years old at the time. I was not quite ten.

Ashley and David Brink

Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow. Since the bone marrow is where blood cells are manufactured, patients with leukemia have a severe lack of them. Red blood cells deliver oxygen throughout the body. White blood cells fight infections. Platelets stick together to form blood clots so we don’t bleed to death. For those with leukemia, these are all in tragically short supply.

I don’t remember a lot from that time. But I do remember her smile, her dancing, her wonderful personality. I think most of my mental images of Ashley come from pictures and home movies. And in the vast majority of them, Ashley is bald. A smiling, beautiful, three- and four-year old girl with no hair. Her hair loss was caused by the chemotherapy used to treat her cancer. Not only did it take hair, it killed her blood cells too. Because of this, Ashley received many blood transfusions. My dad’s blood was not compatible, so he gave so that others could get what they needed.

Ashley and David Brink

I have retained some memories of my own from that time. The handmade sign that hung in our mudroom, just inside the backdoor, warning of every one of Ashley’s low cell counts, asking them to take their shoes off and minimize germs coming into the house. Another was a big handwritten list of rules for my brother and I from Grandma Brink, taped to the closet door. Guidance when Ashley and our mom spent weeks or months at a children’s hospital in Wisconsin. I remember my Uncle Pork (not the name on his birth certificate) staying with us when both parents were there. And I remember all of us staying at the Milwaukee Ronald McDonald House, which is a wonderful charity that supplies a place for families to live while their children are hospitalized away from home. We even spent a Christmas there.

Ashley had a bone marrow transplant on Halloween, 1987. Since all the nurses were in costume, she insisted on dressing as a witch that day, too.

She passed away January 15, 1988. She was only four years old. Her light shined amazingly bright for someone so young with so much pain in her life.

I’ve had a good cry writing this article, reliving memories that had long been forgotten. It feels good.

My father, David Brink, passed away September 20, 2021. Cancer was a factor. My grandma’s list of rules was still on the closet door when we cleared out his house. In his lifetime, he’d donated gallons of blood. I think it was nine gallons. Maybe twelve? (We know how unreliable my memory is.) He signed up to be a bone marrow donor, too, but was never matched for it. But he would have done it, gladly.

I started donating blood as soon as I was legally able, at 18. My first time was in the high school gym, during my school day.

I give because of everything you’ve just read. So did my dad. I hope my son will someday, too.

If you’d like to make an appointment to donate blood or platelets, please visit redcrossblood.org or call 800-RED CROSS.


Posted by Ryan Lang, Red Cross board member and volunteer

Pennsylvania platelet donor visits Northern Ohio on quest to donate in 50 states

Vinton Smith has now donated blood in 45 states, and while he indeed plans to donate in the five states remaining (Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Alaska and Hawaii), he has begun yet another quest: To donate platelets in all 50 states.

Vinton Smith at the Warzel Donation Center in Cleveland

“I’m inspired by recalling my dad’s work ethic and his dedication to donate, and by my mom’s compassion to help others,” said the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania man as he donated platelets at the American Red Cross Warzel Donor Center in Cleveland on Jan. 31.

He is also inspired by Al Whitney of Avon Lake, Ohio. Al has donated platelets in all 50 states twice. Vinton made a point of meeting Al after they connected through a donor website. 

Al Whitney, making his 1016th platelet donation on January 31, 2022

“It’s remarkable, how dedicated he is,” Vinton said of Al. 

His donation comes at a critical time for patients in hospitals who are counting on blood and blood products like platelets for their treatment. The Red Cross is in the midst of a national blood emergency – it’s worst shortage in more than a decade, posing a concerning risk to patient care. The Red Cross has had less than a one-day supply of critical blood products in recent weeks – well below the ideal five-day supply.

Platelets are cell fragments in our blood that form clots and stop or prevent bleeding. They can be essential to helping patients survive surgeries such as organ transplants, and to fight cancer, chronic diseases and traumatic injuries.

Al Whitney and Vinton Smith

“Donating blood or platelets is doing something good to help someone else,” Vinton said.

He appears to be an inspiration to his children, both students at Penn State, as his father was an inspiration to him. Even at their young age, they have both donated blood many times.

Ohio is now the fifth state where Vinton has donated platelets.

When told his story would be shared by the Red Cross, he said, “I’m hopeful that it will inspire others, even just one more person, to take the time to donate life through blood or platelets.”