DAYTON, Ohio - Beavercreek blood donor Judy LaMusga has been donating platelets for so long she can describe the significance of every click and whir in the automated process and can pinpoint every time the machine draws the components she is donating and returns what she is not. Yet she broke routine at her Friday, April 25 appointment by forgetting her scarlet Ohio State feet-warmer socks. Maybe it was because this was her milestone 400th lifetime blood donation with Community Blood Center (CBC).
"For me, it's one more donation," she said, dismissing any notion of nervousness. "The fact that it adds up to a big number doesn't mean a thing to me. It's only about another donation that goes to help people."
That doesn't mean she isn't keeping track. Judy is well aware that even with her milestone, she still ranks second behind CBC's top female donor Katie Ellis. "She can't catch me," laughed Katie after making her 422nd lifetime donation on Tuesday, April 22. Judy also took a ribbing from Bert Jones, CBC's 2nd rank male donor, who made his 521st donation Friday. "I guess you think you're a hero now!" kidded Bert. "Not compared to you!" Judy humbly replied.
Judy's plan is to simply stay the course, keep Father Time at bay with her active and healthy lifestyle, and remain dedicated to her 24 donations-per-year schedule. Though she did forget her socks, her routine is usually unflappable, especially when it comes to warding off the chill of the returning fluids and neutralizing the taste of the sodium citrate anticoagulant.
A heating pad waits in her donation bed, already set to "high." She uses three blankets (plus her socks). A box of Tums (not a generic brand) is always waiting. "They put out a bunch," she said. "I eat eight or 10 to start with, and about 10 minutes before the end I do another six to eight." She is also allowed to sip water.
"Before, when apheresis was upstairs (at CBC), I would bring milk and cookies," she said. "When we came down here (the main floor donor room) I couldn't do milk anymore. Pam (phlebotomist Pam Wentworth) and I worked out how many Tums to take."
Judy has been donating apheresis since the early 80's, and her advocacy efforts have helped recruit countless number of other donors. "I probably started donating apheresis about eight years before the Life Leaders program came in," she recalled. "I started building Life Leaders teams. One of mine was called 'Not in Vein.' There was the "Bloodbusters.' They all had clever names."
She majored in education at Ohio State and still goes to four Buckeye football games a year. She earned a Masters in Administration at Wright State University and retired from 35 years of public service, including management roles with the Montgomery County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. She then went back to school to earn her law degree at the University of Dayton and has her own practice. An important meeting with clients and attorneys was waiting for her when she finished her Friday donation.
There's always room in her schedule for CBC. She was the focus of a Wright State video project on apheresis when she reached her 375 LTD milestone, and she prepared her "sausage soup" recipe on live TV to help promote the CBC donor cookbook.
Her focus lately has been serving on a state committee to rewrite Ohio's Advance Directive guidelines. She advocates for end-of-life planning by participating with fellow professionals in seminars called, "Talking about Death Won't Kill You." "We want the message to be, "Leave a legacy of love,'" she said.
She also believes in tough love. She and her husband Denny are finishing a new home, and said she fired off a two-page letter Friday morning to the developer arguing why she should be allowed to grow her beloved Buckeye trees in her front yard.
"I'm a lawyer!" she said. After the final beeps from the machine, Friday's verdict was in. "Yay! We did our 400th donation! It's done," she said. "I'm real. I've actually done it." Judy made the rounds thanking and hugging the collections staff, old friends who have seen her through many of her 400 donations.
Lately she has been dedicating her donations to her brother-in-law, who needed several platelet transfusions for treatment of brain bleeds. "He told a priest who came to visit him that his life is so blessed," she said, blinking back tears. Many patients can say the same, thanks to donors like Judy LaMusga.