Area man committed to being lifelong blood donor

Staff Writer

 George Lerner, 73, recently celebrated his entrance into the “10 Gallon Donor Club,” meaning he has made 80 blood donations. George Lerner, 73, recently celebrated his entrance into the “10 Gallon Donor Club,” meaning he has made 80 blood donations. George Lerner is a hero and a lifesaver, and he does it all without even getting out of a chair. Lerner, 73, of Marlboro, recently celebrated his entrance into the “10 Gallon Donor Club,” meaning he has made 80 blood donations throughout his lifetime.

“It has taken me close to 40 years to accomplish,” Lerner said.

Recently, at New Jersey Blood Services, New Brunswick, Lerner donated two pints of red blood cells — his 79th and 80th donations — thus achieving a status he had worked his whole life to obtain.

“It feels great, it really does,” said Lerner, whose blood type is O-positive. “Like I tell my friends, donating blood is the easiest way to become a hero.”

Blood donation has been a part of Lerner’s life since he was 7 years old, when, in 1948, he became the seventh individual in Chicago to undergo heart surgery.

“I had a heart defect … they used to call us blue babies because we would run out of oxygen,” he said. “Our lips would turn blue and we would sleep a lot. We would get tired very easily.”

Lerner’s parents were told his life expectancy would not exceed 21, but because of progressive heart-surgery research, Lerner was able to become one of the first people in the United States to successfully receive a heart operation.

“I received many, many units of blood during that procedure,” he said.

In addition to his own heart surgery, Lerner grew up watching his mother — whose blood type was the universal O-negative — regularly donate blood in the years following World War II.

“I was always being dragged around by my mom, going shopping and also to local blood drives,” Lerner said. “And that is when I first realized people had donated blood to help me and help save my life.”

Lerner donated blood for the first time when he was in his late 20s, when the company for which he worked held a blood drive.

At one point in his life, Lerner was prevented from donating blood for two years following atrial fibrillation surgery, when he was forced to take several anti-arrhythmic and anti-clotting medicines.

“I was unable to continue donating blood, and so that is how I came to volunteer with New Jersey Blood Services … I was trained as a donor safety monitor at blood drives, and I really enjoyed that because I still felt I was giving back even though I wasn’t able to donate blood,” he said.

But two years later, Lerner was back to donating blood and he has made it his mission to raise awareness of blood donation to everybody.

According to Lerner, only 2 to 3 percent of the public in the local area donates blood, and when they do, they typically only do it once a year.

“What is interesting is about 25 percent of the blood that we collect in our metropolitan area comes from students at school blood drives,” he said.

“Therefore, when school is out for holidays during the winter and during the summer, we run into shortages. So, if everyone who donated blood donated twice a year, we probably would not have any blood shortages.”

Lerner resides in the Rosemont Estates adult community and maintains an active and healthy lifestyle — every morning, he walks 3 miles with his wife.

“Even though I do take cholesterol and blood-pressure medication … I am able to continue to donate,” Lerner said. “As long as you are healthy, you can donate blood.” Lerner is also an advocate for the Bloodstock Scholarship Program, created by the New York Blood Center to help students organize blood drives. Students who conduct successful blood drives are eligible to receive scholarships.

“It is really very helpful for students to get involved and to become blood donors at an early age, because then they will be lifetime blood donors,” he said.

For more information about making a blood donation, call 1-800-933-2566.