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

There’s no age limit on saving lives, he says

U.S. Army veteran Harold Walter, of Fox Lake, donates blood Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, during, a Versiti Blood Drive at the McHenry VFW Post 4600. Walter, who turns 90 years old this week, has donated over twenty gallons of blood.

To Harold Walter, giving blood is kind of like a car tune-up. 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.”

Walter, who lives in Fox Lake, was celebrated for his milestone of donating more than 20 gallons of blood at a blood drive at the McHenry Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4600 on Monday. It also served as a birthday party since he turns 90 years old Thursday.

A birthday cake and a plaque celebrating his blood donations were presented to him when he arrived. After greeting people, he quickly stepped in line to donate blood. He donates about four times a year, he said.

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

—  Emily Alanis, Versiti Blood Centers of Illinois regional manager

Versiti Blood Centers of Illinois account representative Carrie Futchko said she’s known Walter for more than 10 years. She said she personally calls him 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, which was previously known as Heartland Blood Centers, serves more than 85 hospitals across the northern Illinois and northwest Indiana region. Versiti held the blood drive at the McHenry VFW post, which hosts about six blood drives a year.

A person needs blood every two seconds in America, Versiti Blood Centers of Illinois regional manager Emily Alanis said. In order 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 pleading people in the area to donate if they can. The organization currently 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 that 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 that donors could potentially 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 anymore.

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

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