NEW MADRID - For James LaFerney it really is the gift of life.
Thanks to the blood someone else donated, LaFerney is alive for one more day. Now, he can only hope others will continue to donate so he can continue to live.
The tall, burley New Madrid resident admits he never thought much about donating blood. He tried to donate a couple of times when he was younger but it made him sick, so he stopped.
The sickness may have been nature's first warning. Four months ago LaFerney was diagnosed with leukemia, a disease impacting his ability to produce blood for his own body.
"I was tired all the time and when I finally went to the doctor, I was practically out of blood," LaFerney said. To treat his disease, LaFerney received 18 units of blood and six units of platelets.
"They gave me two months to live, but I beat that," said LaFerney prior to leaving for another round of treatment and transfusions.
LaFerney isn't alone in needing blood. Officials with the American Red Cross estimate that every two seconds someone in the United States needs blood.
Blood is needed for emergencies and for people who have cancer, blood disorders like LaFerney's, sickle cell anemia and other illnesses. Some people need regular blood transfusions to live.
Unfortunately, Red Cross officials add, only 5 percent of the eligible U.S. population donates blood in any given year.
Lydia Howard, the New Madrid County blood program chairman, said not only do few people donate blood, but the numbers seem to be dropping.
"It has dropped in our county and it has dropped in a lot of places," said Howard. Two years ago the county met its donation goal in Red Cross blood drives by 1 pint; last year the county missed its goal by 200 pints. This year there is one final blood drive - from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the New Madrid Community Building on Mill Street - to donate toward the 2004 goal.
To give blood for transfusion to another person, the donor must be healthy, be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and not have donated blood in the last 56 days.
"Healthy" means that the donor feels well and can perform normal activities. For those with a chronic condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, "healthy" also means that if they are being treated and the condition is under control, they can donate.
Prior to each donation, the blood drive workers conduct a "mini-physical" taking the donor's blood pressure and testing the blood.
Howard insisted it isn't because people don't care that they aren't donating blood. She explained that following the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedies people were flocking to blood drives.
Now, however, as time passes the regular donors are still coming but others often skip blood drives because of winter colds or flu and according to Howard a lot of potential donors in New Madrid County are deferred for low iron in the blood. Also, she added, people become caught up in the holiday activities and don't take time from their schedules to donate blood.
"Unfortunately this is the time when there is even a greater need for blood due to accidents," said Howard.
A donor herself, Howard described the whole process as relatively quick and painless.
And although donors on Tuesday will be eligible for prizes such as T-shirts, door prizes and an opportunity to win a $1,000 shopping spree at Kentucky Oaks Mall along with refreshments, the real reward is much greater, she said.
"I've had more people say it makes them feel good to give. They may never know how the blood they gave has helped someone else but it is one very special gift they can give this holiday season."
And while he can't give blood, LaFerney also hopes more healthy donors will roll up their sleeves this holiday season and year-round.
"It saves many lives," he noted. "It has saved mine."
In addition to the blood drive in New Madrid, the American Red Cross will conduct blood drives from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. Dec. 27 at the First United Methodist Church, 1307 N. Main St., and from 2 to 6 p.m. Dec. 29 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 827 Euclid St.