Blood Donor Spotlight: Milton Van Lanen

Milton Van Lanen has been donating blood to the Red Cross so long he can’t remember when he started and has been donating platelets since 2008. Last June, Milton stopped to donate platelets after church on a Sunday. He probably thought he was going to make a donation that would save a life but didn’t expect it to be his own.

Apheresis (platelet donation) is similar to giving blood but a machine separates out the platelets and the rest of the red blood cells and other components are returned to the donor. Many patients who need platelets are undergoing chemotherapy or organ transplant and have weakened immune systems. Area hospitals rely on the Red Cross and donors to keep the supply constant, as the shelf life is only 5 days.  Platelets can be donated every two weeks.

The Red Cross routinely performs preliminary tests prior to a donation but this time they asked Milton if he had ever been told he had an irregular heartbeat. Milton hadn’t so it was suggested he talk to his doctor.

The preliminary tests prior to a donation can sometimes find indicators that a donor should talk to their doctor. They may reveal low iron, high blood pressure, low blood pressure or an erratic pulse. “It doesn’t happen a lot but when it does it gives our nursing staff a good feeling to know they picked up on something the donor can then have furthered checked out,” says Marcia Liethen, Apheresis Recruitment Support Specialist.

Milton went to see his regular doctor who referred him to a specialist. After running some tests it was determined that Milton had partial blockage in a front artery and a back artery, which could be fixed by a routine surgery. They scheduled the surgery for 6:00am and he was told he should be recovering by the afternoon. A worse case scenario might mean an overnight stay.

When Milton awoke from the surgery he saw his wife sitting in the hospital chair wiping tears from her face. They were both shocked to learn Milton would need open heart surgery… a double bypass surgery. “There were no symptoms. I was fine.”

The doctor told Milton he might have never had symptoms if the Red Cross Nursing Staff hadn’t found it. “I was lucky I went to give platelets otherwise I might not be here,” says Milton.

“Now there is no irregular heartbeat and I feel just fine.” Milton says he is just waiting for the ok from his doctor so that he can start donating at the Red Cross again.

Milton says it’s important to donate and volunteer in the community. He volunteers at St Vincent De Paul 2-5 times a week and during milder months volunteers at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Arboretum. “It keeps me out of mischief.”

Milton’s wife, Jean, also a volunteer, sees the value of giving back to the community and is happy her husband went to give platelets that day. “I always tell him it’s because of all the good he does that he’s still here with us.”

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