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Jewish World Review August 20, 2001 / 1 Elul, 5761

Jimmy Breslin

Jimmy Breslin
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Consumer Reports

'Save a life, save a world' -- THE other day, I figured I would catch up with a guy I never met who has so much to do with my family. He has donated blood 17 times for my daughter, who has a chronic blood disease. She needs a transfusion every other week. He has been donating his blood specifically for her for over seven years.

He is our nobility. I know he is a friend of my children and that he is in commercial real estate and that is about all. That, and the fact that he has gone 17 straight times to give blood for my daughter.

Leaving the house, I glanced at my wife's 3-year-old granddaughter, who was enthralled with a Shirley Temple video. Shirley Temple is in desperate need of a blood donor. So her protectors take one guy, Big Steve, and put a gun in his side or whatever and march him into the hospital and announce, "Here is your donor." His immediate transfusion saves Shirley Temple.

In real life, it is a bit more complicated than that. The blood type must be the same. The classes are A positive and negative, B positive and negative, O positive and negative and AB. The wrong type can kill the patient.

My daughter is O positive. Whenever we meet somebody new, everybody in the family says, "How are you? What's your blood type?" I caught up with our greatest donor and his father over the famous chopped salad at Gino's on Lexington Avenue. Our donor was about 40, and dressed like the success he is. In his lapel was a star given to him when he took his kids to the FBI headquarters in Washington. A little levity in days of nervous business. The first thing he said was that he didn't want his name used in anything.

"I only do this for two reasons," he said. "For your family and then for myself. I love the boys and your daughter. I keep the date on my appointment pad. Every 50 days, there is note to give blood. On the way home, I stop off at Sloan and give the blood. I am a direct donor for your daughter." "I don't know how to thank you," I said.

Both he and the father made faces.

"If you read the Torah, you'd know that we're supposed to do these things," the guy said.

"You know what they say, that if you save one life, you save the world," the father said.

That was that. They wouldn't even let me pay the check.

Later, I found more aristocracy walking in out of the sun on First Avenue and into a ground-floor reception room at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The nobleman this time was a tall rangy guy with short cropped red hair and a polo shirt over a big upper body, and work pants and boots of a construction worker - which he was, an ornamental iron worker out of Local 580 on 42nd Street.

The receptionist knew him right away. The nurse's aide walking by said hello. He smiled. He acted with the familiarity of somebody who has been here many times before.

He had. A plaque on the wall says, "Twenty Gallon Club." One of the names listed under it was his, Thomas Gilmartin.

We give his name here only because it already is hanging on the wall.

Otherwise, as I've shown, people doing something as royal as donating blood can be disinterested in having their names used.

"When did you come here first?" the receptionist asked him.

"1977." "You've been coming here ever since," the receptionist said.

"I missed a couple of years. But I've been coming straight for a long time." "What made you start?" he was asked.

"We had somebody in the family who had cancer. After that, I just kept coming pretty much." "He's here for platelets," the receptionist said. Platelets are gained from the blood by running it through a machine that spins the platelets out. The blood then goes back into the donor. Because of new technology, it takes only an hour and a half now, but only recently a platelet donor was in a chair under a blanket for hours. They were the highest saints.

A nurse looked out and Gilmartin went with her.

"It's something I do well," he said with a smile, following her through the door.

In a room on the side, two women who had finished giving blood, one young, in her early 20s, the other more than somewhat older, chewed on cookies and drank fruit juice. The younger woman is 23, and here from Provo, Utah. She is trying to be an opera singer. The older woman works in government. Both were here for the reason that draws most of the blood donations, patients who are relatives or friends.

There can be blood drives, and many advertisements begging for donors, but nothing brings more donations than a patient.

And nothing causes more apprehension than the needle. Usually, the arm feels nothing. These nurses do it without you even knowing it. But sometimes, the brain anticipates pain. Then the aggressive stupidity of politicians and religious people arguing over giving clean needles to drug addicts causes some to associate a needle with disease, even in the antiseptic setting of a great hospital.

Of course this could have no effect on the two women of royalty in the lounge. They had made direct donations to relatives and they speculated what the blood would mean as it circulated.

"She'll probably sing beautifully," the opera singer said.

The older woman had the floor crowded with bags from Madison Avenue stores.

"She'll go shopping," she said.

Jimmy Breslin, a long-time friend of JWR, needs no introduction. Comment by clicking here.

© 2001, Jimmy Breslin