After I wrote about a high-volume Akron blood donor who couldn’t get the Red Cross to respond to a simple question about his eligibility, I received a couple of reader emails saying his story couldn’t possibly be true because the writers’ own experiences were the polar opposite.
Well, if anyone needs more proof that the Red Cross’ theme song could be Communication Breakdown, here’s what happened for the first 19 days after I quoted a spokesperson who promised him a quick answer.
It took the Red Cross nearly three more weeks to answer the man’s simple question.
As I wrote on May 14, Larry L. Miller, 77, has donated 271 units of blood — just short of 34 gallons. After a minor stroke last summer, he began taking some new medication and was concerned about whether the new meds would disqualify him from being a donor.
So he repeatedly contacted the local office to try to find out. He was blown off every time. Then he tried the regional office in Cleveland. Same result.
“No one ever had the courtesy to give me a reply,” he told me eight months after his initial call to the agency. “Maybe I hadn’t donated enough blood to warrant one.”
So I contacted the regional office in Cleveland and got a quick response from Christy Peters, spokeswoman for the Red Cross Northern Ohio Blood Services Region.
She was appropriately apologetic, vowed to track down what happened and fix it so this kind of thing wouldn’t happen again. And she vowed to quickly find an answer to his eligibility question.
Clearly, speed is relative.
As I mentioned the first time, the information about which drugs and conditions preclude a person from donating is available online at: www.rdcrss.org/2r4ryWT.
But more than one-third of Americans over the age of 65 don’t have internet access. And if a guy who has donated 34 gallons of his blood over six decades of his life wants to know whether he’s still eligible, you wouldn’t think he’d need help from a news organization — and still have to wait another 19 days.
When Miller’s question was finally answered by email on Friday afternoon, he was told that one of the drugs he was taking, finasteride, ruled him out as a donor — unless he stopped taking it and waited 30 days.
The bulk of the email dealt with ways he could compensate for not donating blood — by volunteering his time to serve as a donor aid, a canteen aid or help with registration.
“We are always in need of more volunteers, and this is just as valuable to us,” wrote an “eligibility specialist” based in North Carolina.
Miller says he already does his share of volunteer work and has no interest in adding more hours. And he says the medication he was taking didn’t seem to be helping much, so he will quit taking it and wait a month before contributing more blood.
“Had they been responsive last year, I could still have been donating,” he says. “Finasteride is not ‘key’ to my meds. It was more just something to try.”
To be fair, Miller’s experience may not be the norm.
This from reader Doug Anderson:
“I, too, donate every 56 days. I have a hard time believing they didn’t try to get back to him.
“Two weeks before I’m due to donate they call me every day, sometimes at eight o’clock at night, to schedule an appointment. … Seems they have an adequate phone staff.”
But immediately after I received Anderson’s note, I got this one from reader Robert Senvisky:
“I appreciated the story about Mr. Miller and his faithful commitment of donations. My experience with their customer service has been similar. Phone calls, emails and no response!
“I have walked out of at least four blood drives, three of which were online appointments.
“Many times they may not be understaffed but truly not motivated. Because of these situations, I also have not donated for a while.”
So I guess it comes down to the luck of the draw.
Seems to me a dedicated donor shouldn’t need a lot of luck to get a simple answer.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.