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How to save a life

Two Solon seniors reach blood donation goal

SOLON– Could a teenager dare someone to help save a life?
It could, in the case of Ty Appleget and Preston Miller, two Solon High School seniors who challenged each other to become Gallon Grads.
Gallon Grad is a blood donation reward program initiated by the DeGowin Blood Center, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics’ hospital-based blood center that conducts blood donations to benefit more than 600 patients each week. Geared to school-age donors, it signifies that a collective gallon of blood has been donated between the time the donor turns 16 years old and his or her high school graduation. For that achievement, the donor receives a red-cord recognition upon graduation.
It’s not an easy thing to do. Donors become eligible at the age of 16 with parental consent. While DeGowin conducts blood drives in area high schools– including a trip to Solon High School once each fall and spring– that typically creates just five opportunities to give blood in school. At a pint per donation, it means donors reaching for Gallon Grad status must seek three additional opportunities to give blood, while staying within the rules of waiting eight weeks between donations and being free from cold and flu symptoms. Even a slight problem with blood counts can keep a donor from completing a successful donation.
“I wasn’t able to donate for awhile, and I got off track,” said Preston. “I wasn’t sure if I would make it.”
But make it they both did. Ty gave his eighth donation at the blood center in January, and Preston followed in February. They are the second and third Gallon Grads from Solon. Solon 2014 graduate Brianna Pike reached her eighth donation in March of last year, and became DeGowin’s first-ever Gallon Grad.
Todd Kopecky, history instructor at Solon High School, is also Solon’s Octagon Club leader. He said DeGowin Center staff are happy to come to Solon.
“They love holding blood drives here because we have such great participation,” Kopecky said. “I’m pretty sure we out-donate City High and West High.”
While it’s not a contest, becoming a Gallon Grad is certainly a personal challenge that Solon students just seem to rise to.
“Octagon sponsors two blood drives a year,” said Kopecky. Ironically, he added, none of Solon’s three Gallon Grads were Octagon members. “But I have several members who are now on track to become Gallon Grads. Last semester, we had nine sophomores sign up.”
For Ty, he said he was moved beyond the challenge once he truly understood the difference he was making.
“It started as a competition, but we both got looking into it and realized what we were actually doing as people. On our fourth donation, they told us what blood type we were, and that one donation can save three lives. It made an impact on me,” said Ty.
Preston noted other benefits as well.
“I kept doing it because the community was better for it, and you can put it on applications, so it was a win-win,” Preston said.
Kopecky said it does speak to the spirit of service the Octagon Club promotes.
“I always talk about how one donation can save up to three lives. I think it does look good in terms of stewardship and helping the public and modeling good citizenship,” said Kopecky. And that’s what he sees in both Ty and Preston.
“They are both wonderful guys. It’s inspiring to see them meet their goal, and the fact that, when they come in during blood drives, they are encouraging other kids to donate as well.”
Both Ty and Preston said they will continue to donate, and continue to speak to others about the importance of blood donation.
“I tell them to try it out at least. If they don’t like it they don’t have to do it again,” said Preston. “It’s something easy to do that really helps.”
Ty said he was already scheduled to give platelets at the end of March.
“I really would love for everybody to do it. A lot of people don’t understand just how big a difference they can make,” Ty said. “It was really cool getting my name out there on that eighth donation, but it just makes me feel good to know what I’m doing makes such an amazing impact.”
For more information about donating blood or platelets, visit www.uihealthcare.org/bloodcenter. To make a donation appointment, contact the UI DeGowin Blood Center at 319-356-2058. To sponsor a blood drive for your organization, call 319-356-8327.