Fox Lake man marks 90th birthday — and donating over 20 gallons of blood in his lifetime

To Harold Walter, giving blood is kind of like a car tuneup. It's something he's been doing for the majority of his life, ever since someone donated a pint of blood in his name.

“I feel better after I donate blood,” he said. “It's my oil change.”

The Fox Lake resident was celebrated Monday at the McHenry Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4600 for donating more than 20 gallons of blood during his lifetime. It also served as a birthday party because Walter turns 90 Thursday.

A birthday cake and a plaque celebrating his blood donations were presented to him when he arrived. After greeting people, Walter quickly stepped in line to donate blood.

He said he donates about four times a year.

Versiti Blood Centers of Illinois account representative Carrie Futchko said she's known Walter for more than 10 years. She said she calls to remind him of future blood drives.

“Each gallon is eight donations,” she said. “Harold has saved close to 500 lives.”

Headquartered in Aurora, Versiti, previously known as Heartland Blood Centers, serves more than 85 hospitals across northern Illinois and northwest Indiana.

A person needs blood every two seconds in America, Versiti Blood Centers of Illinois regional manager Emily Alanis said. To keep a healthy supply of blood, the organization needs about 500 donations a day.

Illinois is experiencing a shortage in blood supply, which led Versiti to issue an appeal asking people to donate if they can. The organization has less than a one-day supply of blood for each blood type. Blood types O-positive and O-negative are in most demand, according to Versiti.

Alanis said the shortage is due to many factors. For one, with more people working remotely after the COVID-19 pandemic, it's harder to set up larger blood drives at workplaces. This time of year, it also can be difficult to keep up strong donation numbers, as people are busy with the back-to-school season, she said.

“But the No. 1 reason why people don't donate is because they hadn't been asked to,” Alanis said.

Alanis is focused on getting communities informed that more people are eligible to be blood donors now than ever. The FDA recently lifted many bans on blood donors, including veterans who served overseas.

Blood donations typically go to the closest hospital, so Alanis likes to stress donors could save their neighbors' lives.

“Donating is great, but helping our local blood supply is so important,” she said.

As for Walter, he plans on donating blood until he physically can't.

“As long as I'm around, I'm going to keep on giving,” he said.

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