If there was one thing that made the blood donation Palatine resident George Serena gave Tuesday morning different from the 150 he's given in the past, it would probably be the puffy red costume paired with a pointy hat that make him look like a drop of blood.
Serena, 86, has worn the costume to promote blood drives at schools and churches in the Palatine area for the past 10 years. It's earned him many nicknames from bemused blood donors.
"People call me Mr. Blood Drop, Mr. Ketchup, Mr. Dracula," Serena said as his blood slowly filled a pint bag next to him Tuesday. "You can call me whatever you want, so long as you donate a pint of blood."
While some cringe and even pass out while giving blood, Serena passed the time cheerily chatting with the staff members at LifeSource in Arlington Heights, who have become his friends over the years.
"It's exciting to have George here," said Geri Venable, director of donor services for the 19 LifeSource locations in the Chicago area. "Him being an ambassador for us is just truly exceptional."
Serena saw the need for blood donations from an early age. He donated his first pint at 17 because his uncle needed a blood transfusion and doctors recommended that family members donate as a way to give back.
He gave blood throughout his Army service, noting that GIs received a three-day leave pass for donating.
Shirley Serena, George's wife of 64 years, said he's been donating for as long as she's known him.
"I think it's great, very worthwhile and certainly it's for a good cause," she said.
When her husband began running their church's blood drives, Shirley was supportive, but she was not enthusiastic about his decision to wear the Mr. Blood Drop costume to Sunday service.
"I thought, 'Oh, this is so ridiculous,'" she said. "I told him, 'I'm not going to sit with you.'"
In 2009, Shirley fell ill and doctors discovered she was suffering from a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor that was potentially life-threatening.
She was put into a medically induced coma for 15 days, and throughout the ordeal she received six pints of blood.
George said he remembers being grateful for the blood that helped save his wife's life.
"You never know when you will need blood," he said. "We joke that it wasn't my Polish blood that went into her Irish and German body because they wouldn't have worked together."
Serena, a former accountant, describes himself as being a bit of a nut when it comes to numbers. He keeps track of nearly everything, from how many hours he wears his blood drop costume to how much he has spent on gas going back 60 years.
So when he says that the blood he donated Tuesday was the 151st pint he has given, he means it. That led to some mild confusion when LifeSource presented him Tuesday with a certificate -- and a chocolate cake -- acknowledging his 150th blood donation. Organizers said later that Serena "sneaked in" to donate his 150th pint on his 86th birthday.
Serena is showing no signs of slowing down when it comes to giving.
Minutes after the needle was removed from his arm Tuesday, he already was scheduling his next appointment to donate.