By Age 85, She'd Given 23 Gallons Of Blood: 'Because I Can'

Mar 27, 2020
Originally published on March 27, 2020 7:19 am

Lillian Bloodworth lives up to her name, so to speak.

Over the course of nearly five decades, the 92-year-old has donated 23 gallons of blood, starting in the 1960s. (The average person's body contains about 1.5 gallons.)

"When I first started, I would have donors read my name tag and ask if that was really my name or was that a gimmick for the blood bank," she said.

During a StoryCorps conversation recorded in January 2010 in Gulf Breeze, Fla., Lillian told her late husband, John, about why it was important for her to give blood as often as she can.

When Lillian was just 2 years old and sick with pneumonia, she received a blood donation from her older brother.

"It did stick with me because I can remember we were on side-by-side beds. He talked to me while they were doing it," she said. "So even way back then, my kinfolk were giving blood."

Then, in 1966, Lillian was inspired to start donating her own blood.

"Our elder son had had surgery, and had received blood. A lot," she recalled. "So I thought it might be nice to try and put some of the blood back into the bank. So, I do it every 56 days. Not one day shorter."

"How do people react when then find out how much you've donated?" John asked her.

"They are impressed," she said.

On one occasion she was told she couldn't donate because her blood pressure was too low.

"The phlebotomist — the ones who draw the blood — knew that I wanted desperately to give, so she said, 'Tell you what ... drink a cup of coffee and then walk around the building real fast and then come right back in.' "

So she followed instructions; when she returned, her blood pressure was high enough to follow through with the donation, and her blood was drawn.

"Why have you continued to donate for so many years, though?" John asked her.

"Because I can," Lillian said. "I see no reason why I shouldn't."

"Every time you give a pint, they tell you, 'Well, you've probably saved three more people.' I do get quite a boost out of doing that. Something will tell me when to stop and until I get that signal I'll keep on going."

Eventually, Lillian did get that signal. At age 85, the blood bank told her that she needed the blood more than they did, so she stopped donating.

Her giving nature has continued to stay, well, in the bloodline. Her second oldest son, Charles, is approaching his 22nd donated gallon.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo, Vanara Taing and Camila Kerwin.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right. It's time now for StoryCorps and a story about donating blood from a 92-year-old woman named Lillian Bloodworth.

LILLIAN BLOODWORTH: When I first started, I would have donors read my name tag and ask if that was really my name or was that a gimmick for the blood bank (laughter).

KING: It's really her name. Lillian has donated more than 20 gallons of blood over the past 50 years. The average person has about a gallon and a half of blood in their body, so that's a lot of donations. Bloodworth came to StoryCorps in Florida with her husband, John.

BLOODWORTH: At 2 years of age, I developed pneumonia and at that point received my first blood donation from my older brother. It did stick with me because I can remember we were on side-by-side beds. He talked to me while they were doing it. So even way back then, my kinfolk were giving blood. I started this because our eldest son had had surgery and had received blood a lot. So I thought it might be nice to try and put some of the blood back into the bank. So I do it every 56 days, not one day shorter.

JOHN BLOODWORTH: How do people react when they find out how much you've donated?

BLOODWORTH: They are impressed. One time, I went to give, and they told me my pressure was too low. And the phlebotomist, the ones who draw the blood, knew that I wanted desperately to give. So she said, tell you what, drink a cup of coffee and walk around the building real fast and then come right back in. So I drank my cup of coffee, and I walked around the building and went back in. And she took my blood pressure, and it was high enough, so they did me real fast.

BLOODWORTH: Why have you continued to donate for so many years, though?

BLOODWORTH: Because I can. I see no reason why I shouldn't. And every time you give a pint, they tell you, well, you have probably saved three more people. I do get quite a boost out of doing that. Something will tell me when to stop, and until I get that signal, I'll keep on going.

KING: That was 92-year-old Lillian Bloodworth and her husband, John. Lillian stopped donating blood a couple years ago. The blood bank told her that she needed it more than they did. That interview will be archived in the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.