By ANDREW MCGINN
When Vern Foje moved to Jefferson in 1963 and started participating in community blood drives, a gallon of gas cost 30 cents.
Over the next 51 years, a gallon of gas has only gone up in price, while the cost of a gallon of blood has stayed the same.
It’s still priceless.
Most people, however, will never donate a gallon’s worth of blood. The average blood donation is about a pint — and most people seem content with donating once or twice in their life, if at all.
Then again, Vern Foje isn’t most people.
Foje, 75, has so far donated 44 gallons of blood, and he has a goal of giving 50 gallons by the time his capillaries eventually go cold.
“They might have to dig me up to get that 50th gallon,” he quipped during a recent visit to the Greene County Community Center by the LifeServe Blood Center.
Just let that sink in.
Even if he never donated another drop, he’s still donated 44 gallons.
That’s enough blood for Foje to have personally saved 1,056 lives.
“I try to work my schedule around this,” he said, blood flowing from a vein as he sat wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a Superman-type logo on it. “I believe in it strongly enough.”
“It’s like giving to the church,” he added. “You just do it.”
Foje estimates he’ll hit the 45-gallon mark in December.
The blood center estimates that one pint of blood alone can save three lives.
There are eight pints in a gallon.
What’s harder to calculate is how many cookies Foje has consumed afterward over the course of 51 years.
It takes Foje, who’s now a double red cell donor, about 45 minutes to go through the process every four months.
“But that’s not including coffee time,” he said. “With coffee time, I take three hours.”
Most people donate whole blood, and donors can be in and out within minutes, according to Sam Clark, a lead phlebotomist with LifeServe’s Des Moines-based mobile unit.
The frequency of LifeServe’s visits to Jefferson speaks to the constant need for blood.
“One bad accident could wipe us clean,” Clark said.
The blood center is scheduled to return to the community center from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. May 13, June 10 and July 8.
Blood donated locally stays locally.
Foje donated 20 gallons of whole blood before he became a double red cell donor — a longer process in which plasma is returned to the donor after the red blood cells are collected.
“They’re going to pump liquid back into me,” Foje explained.
“Maybe a little Black Velvet,” he added. “I get happier as it goes on.”
However, there’s one sobering statistic about blood donation — only 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood and, of them, less than 10 percent do.
About one in seven people entering a hospital will need blood.
“I wish more people would do it,” Foje said.