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Pay it forward, donate blood

By Chasen Thoennes, DIA Public Affairs Defense Intelligence Agency

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In a time of social distancing and self-isolation, some may wonder how they can still help others affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. For Sgt. First Class Matthew Brueggeman, a member of the Office of the Chaplain at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the answer is through blood donations. Although, technically, he doesn’t donate blood.

Brueggeman had been a consistent donor before the coronavirus was part of everyone’s daily vocabulary. After his first (actual) blood donation in May 2018, he learned about platelet donation. Platelets are the clotting and healing element of blood, which are needed in cases of severe bleeding or injury. This also means he can donate more frequently. Instead of waiting 56 days between blood donations, platelet donors only need to wait seven days, allowing them to donate up to 24 times a year.

“After my first platelet donation, I found out that my platelet count is higher than normal, and so I'm able to help more people per donation sticking with platelets,” Brueggeman said. “It's more time intensive — normal donation can be done in less than an hour, a platelet donation is about three hours — but I'm able to help more people.”

In the last two years, Brueggeman has made 44 donations, totaling 122 units of platelets or more than 15 gallons. Even with the current pandemic, Brueggeman continues to donate. It’s a sense of helping others that keeps Bruggeman going back.

“When I first started, it was simply a way to give back. But as time went on, I began to engage with a larger group of platelet donors through social media,” said Brueggeman. “We tell our stories, answer questions for each other, and that made it about more than just me. Also, cancer runs in my family, and platelets are one of the things (doctors) administer in conjunction with chemotherapy.”

Even though Brueggeman will never know who receives his platelets, he is still able to make a human connection to his donations. After each donation, the Red Cross emails him the hospital, city and state that received his donation.

“I've been tracking every donation and about a year ago I mounted a U.S. map on a corkboard. I mark the board every time one of my donations goes to a new city,” explained Brueggeman. “So far, one has gone to Arizona, five down in Puerto Rico, most end up between Georgia and Maryland.”

 COVID-19 has caused the cancellation of thousands of blood drives across the country. However, individuals can still schedule donation appointments at redcross.org or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS.

For people who may be hesitant to donate, Brueggeman says it is important to remember the effect of a donation is greater than any temporary inconvenience a needle may cause.  

“The people needing your donation are going through some of the toughest moments of their lives. Your donation is going to help someone receive treatment or save lives," Brueggeman said. “Most people know someone who has received a blood transfusion. They were able to receive it because someone selflessly donated. That's why I do it. To pay it forward.”