Turner man donates blood for 500th time

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Joe Maher of Turner talks with apheresis collections specialist Whitley Marshall before donating blood for the 500th time at the American Red Cross Blood Donor Center at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. 

Joe Maher has five children, eight grandchildren, has been married for 41 years, will turn 63 in June — and has donated blood 500 times.

“I started donating because I wanted to help somebody,” said Maher, of Turner. “I couldn’t give cash donations to help somebody, but I could give blood.”

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Maher donated his first unit when he was 22. “There was one machine and one nurse when I started. Now there are three machines.” 

Maher visits the American Red Cross Blood Donor Center at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston once a month to donate. 

“It is not often that we see this level of commitment,” said Bernadette Jay, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross in Richmond, Virginia.

“Donating is not something that someone thinks about every day,” said Jay, who said emails often go out to volunteer donors to remind them to make their next appointment.

Maher does not need a reminder. “It is very exciting when folks are excited about donating on a regular basis,” Jay said. 

It is quite uncommon for someone to donate 500 times, said Mary Brant, communications manager for the Red Cross Northern New England region. Only 3 percent of the population donate blood, Brant said. 

Maher said he has a high platelet count, which means his blood is in high demand.

Platelets are the component of blood that stops the bleeding. Maher’s donations as well as other platelet donations primarily go to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Platelets also benefit burn victims and trauma patients, said apheresis collections specialist Whitley Marshall while tending to Maher. 

Platelets can only be stored for up to five days, so if local needs are met, Maher’s platelets head across the country.

Maher said his platelets have served needs in Missouri, California, New York, New Jersey and Ohio. 

“Someone needs blood in this country every two seconds,” Jay said.

Maher said it takes about two and a half hours to donate platelets. “As long as I have good bandages, I go back to work,” he said.

Maher owns a small stitching company that makes knee pads for welders at Bath Iron Works. 

“The Red Cross is very grateful for donors like Joe Maher,” Brant said. “The Red Cross could not fulfill their mission without blood donors.” 

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