Donating Blood Changes Lives

Two strangers, a 71-year-old man and a five-year-old boy, met at a UCLA luncheon this past June. What could they possibly have in common?

Five-year-old Wesley Rea was born with a rare disease that affected his immune system. He could not fight infections and spent a lot of time in the hospital. Treatments and therapies involving donated plasma and platelets eventually restored his immunity and saved his life.

And who donated those blood products that made a difference for Wesley?

That man is Kazuhiro “Kaz” Ando. Kaz is a Business Intelligence Developer in L.A. Care’s Information Technology department. He has been donating blood and blood products for over 20 years. The UCLA Blood and Platelet Center alone has an astounding count of 236 times as of June that Kaz has donated.

“I started donating blood in college, just once a year or once every few years when I remembered, or when there was a blood drive,” says Kaz. “I started working at UCLA and kept getting emails to donate blood. They offered incentives like four hours of comp time or a hoodie. There were so many donors at UCLA, and I was just one of them – really not that amazing.”

Wesley’s family and other donation recipients would certainly disagree. The luncheon was held by the UCLA Blood and Platelet Center, which hosts the event annually to honor donors and connect them to those whose lives were saved by blood donations. Wesley’s mother shared her story at the luncheon, which caught the attention of news outlets NBC and CBS.

The news did interviews with Wesley’s family and with Kaz, which caught him off guard.

“I’ve been to three, four, five events where blood donors get together,” says Kaz. “There’s about 20 other people like me. I have met others that we helped in previous events. One patient may receive blood products from one to perhaps a few dozen donors depending on the condition. I went to this last one casually, not expecting anything but a nice lunch, and certainly not to be interviewed. It was a complete surprise to find out about Wesley.”

Whole blood donations are typically used for serious injuries, surgeries and those in need of transfusions. Blood product donations, like red blood cells, plasma – the liquid portion of blood – and platelets (which aids in clotting), make a difference in cancer treatments, and for emergency and trauma patients, like those with severe infections and burns. AB plasma can be given to anyone regardless of blood type, which is why Kaz is a universal plasma donor.

Kaz says, “I started to donate plasma/platelets when we had an Asian student who came down with leukemia. I was volunteering with Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M) during that time. Unfortunately, she passed away, but I kept at it.”

“I used to go twice a month, but now I’m down to once a month. I like to donate plasma and platelets because with whole blood, you have to wait eight weeks in between donations. With plasma, you can donate every four weeks, and platelets can be donated up to 24 times a year.” 

L.A. Care held a blood drive in August in collaboration with the Red Cross. Blood donations are greatly needed, but tend to go down sharply in the summer months. Helping this are recent lifts on restrictions on who can donate, like eliminating eligibility questions based on sexual orientation.

This enabled another L.A. Care staff member, Chief Human Resources Officer Terry Brown, to donate blood for the first time in 40 years.

“I’m excited that this finally happened,” Terry said. “I look at this as a positive event for the gay community that we are able to give again, and I look forward to other members of the community coming out to donate as well.”

Kaz himself has been with L.A. Care for about 10 years. At UCLA, he worked as a statistician for an HIV/AIDS research project. He also used to volunteer for AIDS Walk, helping to recruit more participants a couple nights a week. 

With all of this dedication and experience, what message does Kaz have for us?

“Our lives are short. We should all try to make this world a better place.”

View the news reports:

NBC Los Angeles

CBS News