Lifelong blood donor saves hundreds of lives

'I consider myself to be a giver,' says donor


DETROIT – Tom Ferrebee says in this world, there are givers and there are takers, and he's always been a giver. But few could imagine just how much Ferrebee has given of himself.

Ferrebee is a regular blood donor, regular as in every eight weeks. He is 76 years old, and over his lifetime he's donated not a gallon of blood, not 10 gallons of blood, but 30 gallons of blood.

There was one experience that started it all when he was just a teenager.

In 1956, Detroit-born Ferrebee was attending Iowa State University on a football scholarship.

"I was 19 years old. I was a sophomore in college, and I was home for the summer," said Ferrebee. "I was down visiting my aunt, and they came in and said she needed blood. I went directly across the street to the Red Cross."

Sadly, his aunt did not survive, but the experience of that day had a major impact on Ferrebee. He started giving blood every eight weeks after that, and he's never stopped.

"When they call, I come," said Ferrebee. "I've been coming to the Red Cross at various locations for so long that I've gotten to know most of the nurses by name."

He has been forced to miss a few times over the years.

"I was on medication, a couple times I had surgery."

But as soon as he was able, he always came right back.

Then there was the time Ferrebee trudged in through a snowstorm, only to find out his iron level was too low to donate that day.

"I said, 'My goodness, you're turning me down,'" Ferrebee remembered with a smile.

Through the years, he's worked as a teacher, at Ford Motor Company, and became a Detroit police commander. But his commitment as a blood donor never wavered.

Now approaching his 77th birthday, the Red Cross estimates that Ferrebee has given about 240 pints of blood. That works out to 30 gallons.

"I was actually amazed when they told me how much I had given," said Ferrebee. "They said, 'Gee Mr. Ferrebee, do you realize for every pint of blood you're helping three or four people? Multiply that times 240.'"

That's at least 720 people who've been helped or saved by Ferrebee's blood.

"I know that somebody, someday, who that needs that blood is using it," said Ferrebee. "There are only givers and takers. I don't know anything in between, so I consider myself to be a giver and I guess giving blood is part of that."

So what does the Red Cross think of Ferrebee and his commitment?

"One in a million," says Red Cross spokesperson Bridget Tuohey.

Tuohey says they rely on regular donors like Ferrebee to help meet the constant need for blood.

"When it's five degrees outside, and it's going to stay there or hover around there for two weeks...we lose blood in that time period. People do not come to donate blood," said Tuohey. "A guy like Tom Ferrebee who shows up every eight weeks and donates, well if there were more of him, we'd never have to be saying 'Help, help, help, come now, we need blood.' We need more Toms."

A humble hero, Ferrebee just hopes he can inspire more people to give donating blood a try.

"It's a very simple process, and it's a very needed process," said Ferrebee. "It's a painless process, and it's something we all need to think about doing if at all possible."

There's no upper age limit for blood donation, as long as donors are able to meet the health criteria, they can keep giving. Ferrebee has no plans to stop now.

"When you give, you always feel good about it. You don't even have to think about how you feel," said Ferrebee. "It's just a good feeling within you when you give something, especially something as intrinsic and as personal as your own blood."

The Red Cross says the need for blood is urgent right now. To find a blood drive near you, click here. (put link to the Gardner-White blood drive article)

To learn more about blood donation, click here.