Gregg Turnbull 500th blood donation

LifeSouth Dothan Center Team Supervisor Candice Johnson prepares Gregg Turnbull for his 500th platelet donation at the center on Friday morning.

Gregg Turnbull sat in the recliner with his feet propped up, munching on chips and cake and watching a movie.

As he squeezed a ball in his left hand, Candice Johnson, a LifeSouth Center team supervisor, watched the platelet machine withdraw blood from Turnbull’s left arm, push it into a centrifuge and separate platelets from red blood cells. Within a few minutes, the platelet machine started returning red blood cells to Turnbull’s bloodstream.

Johnson warned Turnbull that the return was coming, as it often feels cold to the donor.

Turnbull, wearing headphones, just laughed at his movie, “Mr. Deeds” (the “new” one with Adam Sandler, not the original with Gary Cooper). The process of donating platelets doesn’t really faze the 76-year-old. Friday was his 500th platelet donation, after all.

“I’ve got really good veins,” he said jokingly before settling into the LifeSouth recliner.

Turnbull was an 18-year-old soldier in basic training when he first donated blood in 1962. The Army gave donors a three-day pass in exchange. After he went to Vietnam in 1964, Turnbull just kept giving. It became a habit. Eventually, he started donating platelets.

“Gregg is one of our most dedicated donors,” Johnson said. “He comes in every two weeks to do platelets. We never have to call him to ask him to donate; he just comes in, and he wants to do it.”

Key blood element

Platelets are cells in the blood that form clots and stop bleeding. They are used by hospitals to help cancer patients who have low platelet counts and others fighting blood diseases or traumatic injuries.

Whole blood can be donated every 56 days, while platelet donations can be done every two weeks (but no more than 24 times a year). Whole blood can last for 42 days after donation, but platelets only last for five days.

Donating platelets takes longer than donating whole blood — almost two hours compared with about 30 minutes — which can make it difficult to get people to donate platelets. Turnbull remembers when both arms were used for platelet donations and prefers the one-arm system used now.

With an emergency need for blood and platelet donations, Turnbull hopes others will be inspired to donate.

“It is so easy to do, and I would recommend it for anybody that doesn’t have a reason for not giving,” he said. “… It’s just a wonderful way to serve your fellow man.”

Efforts honored

Turnbull, whose blood type is O-positive, has been put on display before for his giving nature. The Army rolled him out on a gurney when he reached his first gallon to encourage others to donate, and LifeSouth celebrated his 400th platelet donation in 2015 with a party.

He didn’t initially set a goal when it came to blood and platelet donations; it was just his way to give back. Turnbull, who remodels homes for a living, said he thanks God for giving him the ability to donate as often as he has.

Turnbull refers to the Bible and God breathing life into man when he talks about donating blood to help save the lives of others.

“We have a great opportunity to pass that life on to other people,” he said. “It doesn’t really cost us anything but a little bit of time.”

He laughs at the idea of his being a community hero.

“I’m just an average guy given an opportunity to be a blessing to others,” Turnbull said.

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