04/10/08 — Big giver of life

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Big giver of life

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on April 10, 2008 2:00 PM

James E. Summerlin says he doesn't have the technical skills to help people in need. So he helps them the only way he knows how -- by giving his blood.

Not just once, but 21 times.

Tuesday, Summerlin sat down in the chair, rolled up his sleeve and gave his 161st unit of blood during a collection at the Wayne County Chapter of the American Red Cross. That's 20 gallons and one pint of blood.

The 66-year-old gave his first unit of blood when he was just 16. He lived in Grantham and a neighbor came by recruiting donors for his daughter who needed surgery.

He admits that he was a little anxious about giving blood that first time. Although he really didn't know the girl, he knew it was the right thing to do.

The next time he gave blood his purpose was a little less noble.

He was when he was 18 and in advanced combat medic training in Texas for the Army National Guard.

"They promised a three-day pass to anyone who gave blood," he said. "It was supposed to start at 5:30 p.m. Friday and go through 5:30 p.m. Sunday."

So Summerlin volunteered.

"But the company commander ordered an inspection at noon on Saturday, and I had to stay for that," said Summerlin. "Then I got to go."

He wasn't scared this time, but he did learn from that second time not to get up too quickly when he was done donating.

"I almost passed out," he said. "I stood still long enough for it to die off then made for the chair that was about 10 feet away. Then in a few minutes, it was over."

After that, Summerlin gave blood sporadically -- only three or four times a year. It was three or four years before he gave blood again. He said he didn't get serious about giving blood until about 1967.

Now he gives as often as the Red Cross allows, which is every 56 days. Every once in a while, his iron level is low, and he can't give.

"It's just one of those things I got into my head to do," he said. "It gets easier the more I do it. I really look forward to giving blood now."

He said he is not a mechanic or a carpenter and doesn't have skills to help others.

Giving blood, he said, that's his way of giving back.

"I can lie still for 10 or 15 minutes and let somebody take some blood. That's the very least I can do. It's not such a big hoorah. but it is one of the few things I can do and feel good that I've helped somebody even though I'll never know this side of Heaven who they are."

Summerlin said God gave him the blood and replenishes it. It's his gift to people, he said, he might never meet, but whose lives he could change.

"The very least I can do to help my fellow man is this one thing," he said.

Each unit of blood has the potential to help three people. So Summerlin has he as many as 483 people by giving his.

His daughter, Martha, a student at North Carolina State University, has started giving blood, too. And his sister, Barbara Dills, and his nephew are also blood donors.

Summerlin hopes that giving blood has inspired someone else to do the same.

Tammy Forrestor, blood services director with the Red Cross, said it takes about a year and three months to give one gallon of blood.

"It's just an awesome thing that somebody is willing to do this," she said. "And he puts it as a priority on his list. It is the gift of life and Mr. Summerlin does that graciously."