Generosity in his veins: Fred Zaidman, prolific platelets donor
Every day in hospitals, in fact every 2 seconds everywhere, according to the American Red Cross, someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion. Approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells, nearly 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed daily.
For the past 17 years, property manager Fred Zaidman has come to Cedars-Sinai Blood Donor Services twice a month to donate both platelets and whole blood, making him the most prolific of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s platelet donors. On July 21, the 62-year-old was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at a special event celebrating approximately 200 of the medical center’s blood and platelet donors.
The event, held in the Cedars cafeteria, was “a humbling experience” with his “Cedars blood donor family,” as Zaidman put it.
“You feel kind of awkward, because you give and feel like you don’t want to get anything in return,” he said, describing his experience at the event. “But if I can inspire others to give platelets, then I’m going to do it.”
Platelets are small, disc-shaped cells in the blood that help control bleeding by assisting with the clotting process, according to the Cedars-Sinai Blood Donor Services site. Donors are connected to an apheresis machine that separates platelets and some plasma from the donor’s blood, then returns the red cells and most of the plasma back to the donor.
Collecting platelets is a longer and more intensive process than whole blood donation. While blood donation can take up to an hour or slightly more (including filling out forms and the donation procedure), the platelet process normally takes 2 to 3 hours. Whole blood donors must wait 56 days between donations while their blood regenerates, but platelet donors can give every seven days, up to 24 times a year — a good thing, considering the shelf life of platelets is a scant five days.
“Fred is a wonderful example of the difference one person can make in the lives of so many, and it was my honor to present him with the Lifetime Achievement in Blood Donation award for his 17 years of dedicated donation,” Shawn Wittmier, supervisor of Cedars-Sinai Blood Donor Services, said.
Zaidman started donating when his father had a life-saving procedure that required six pints of donated blood. In a phone interview with the Jewish Journal, Zaidman recalled that his father had been losing blood quickly, but thanks to the transfusions, he survived, and Zaidman emerged with a mission.
“Six strangers came in, and I don’t know who they were, and they saved my father’s life. I decided I’m going to give back.”
Zaidman started by giving whole blood every 56 days. After he had donated 10 pints, Cedars-Sinai staff asked him to give to platelets, he said. To date, Zaidman has made four granulocyte (white blood cells), 15 whole blood, 80 plasma and 174 platelet donations – a total of 273 donations to Cedars-Sinai.
Cedars-Sinai collects approximately 30,000 units of blood a year, according to a spokesman, but typically transfuses about 60,000 units of blood products a year — this means that only about 50 percent of its transfused blood products are collected at the hospital.
“Despite the dedication of our loyal donors, many more people have never donated or only donated once in their lives,” Wittmier said. “There is a constant need.”
Zaidman said the process for platelet collection has improved noticeably during the time he’s been giving. For instance, when he started, platelets were collected from both arms, immobilizing him for the duration of the donation.
Today, platelets are drawn from just one arm, enabling the donor to read, watch television or work on computers, laptops and phones during the process. He noted that even though the process was only a little longer in the old days than it is today, “it seemed much longer when you can’t use your arms.”
During donations, Zaidman watches movies, naps and talks to the Cedars Blood Services staff.
“They’re all like family,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for so long, they’re so attentive and respectful, they go out of their way to make sure you’re comfortable. … They’ll spoil you if you let them.”
Over the years, Zaidman has made an impact by talking to others about his donations.
“People contacted me and said, ‘Thank you for making me aware.’ ” he said. “That makes me feel good. Some are now consistent donors, which makes me feel pretty good, but I always want more and more and more. We have a shortage, would love to see the hospital have an overabundance of blood products.
“Without the blood transfusions, a lot of people wouldn’t be able to survive,” Zaidman said, adding that there is both a “moral basis and community responsibility” to donate when you can.
“When they get to the ER or have surgery such as heart bypass, without the blood, they’re not going to survive. I wouldn’t want to see anyone die because there isn’t enough blood available. There isn’t an excuse for that.”
Zaidman also donates his time; readers of the Jewish Journal may remember he was named to the Journal’s Mensch List in December 2014 for his work with at-risk kids, SOVA and on Skid Row, among other volunteer activities. He is also the subject of a documentary film by filmmaker Donnna Kanter, focusing on his family members, most of whom were killed in the Holocaust. Zaidman’s genealogical research, has taken him to Poland, Germany and Israel.
“The genealogy thing,” as he called it, started a few years ago when he realized he had hardly any pictures or names of family members. As he started putting the pieces of the family together, he discovered birth and marriage certificates and learned that his father’s first cousin, Isser Be’eri, had been the director of the Shai unit of the Haganah. When Shai was disbanded in 1948, the Israeli secret service was reorganized into three agencies: the Shin Bet, the Mossad and the Military Intelligence Directorate, and Be’eri was made director of the latter.
“Every find I have is deeply important. It’s a personal quest that I have,” he said.
“The platelet thing for me,” he said, “it’s not a big deal. It’s just like going shopping; it’s part of my routine. I enjoy and look forward to donating.”