By Malcolm Butler
Sam Wallace is a rare breed.
In more ways than one.
Sam, who is in his 38th year working at his alma mater of Louisiana Tech University, recently hit a milestone in his life.
He gave “blood” for the 200th time.
According to Sam, it’s something he began doing when he was a young professional at Louisiana Tech in his 20s.
“I really think Virgil Orr was the one who got me started,” said Sam. “I think. That was several decades ago. I was a young employee at Tech and Virgil was a pretty good blood donor.”
Sam isn’t the first person to ever give blood (or plasma or platelets) a few hundred times. However, he is in a small fraternity for sure.
“That’s just the way Sam is about helping people,” said his wife, Linda. “Most people don’t know what Sam does for people. He gives and gives and gives. But most of the time everything he does is anonymous. He doesn’t like people to know. He always asks that it be anonymous.”
In fact, Linda had to talk Sam into allowing her to make a Facebook post about his 200th donation.
“I told him it may encourage others to do the same thing,” said Linda. “That was the only reason he was okay with it.”
Sam began donating plasma instead of blood a few decades ago. He credits a Life Share Blood Center technician named Karen for talking him into it, although it took her a few years to convince him due to the process.
“When you do the plasma, the blood comes out, circulates through a device that removes the plasma, and then the blood goes right back in you,” said Sam. “All they take out is plasma. It comes through a machine that removes plasma. So, it took a while for me to get comfortable with that idea. I did that for a good many years.”
However, all of this came to an abrupt halt when Sam was diagnosed with cancer in his 40s. Even though the surgical procedure to remove the melanoma was successful, he was told he couldn’t give blood for seven years. That was the rule two decades ago.
“It was to make sure patients getting my blood product were safe,” said Sam. “It’s a safety measure for the recipient. It had nothing to do with my health because my treatment was surgical. They removed the melanoma … all of it.”
“He grieved after his cancer diagnosis when they told him he couldn’t donate for seven years,” said Linda. “He grieved. It almost killed him not to be able to give.”
However, after that seven-year hiatus, Sam was approved to become a blood donor once again. This time he began donating platelets instead of whole blood or plasma.
So, what makes Sam Wallace unique?
His blood. It’s special. Seriously.
Sam is AB positive. Only 4 percent of Americans have this blood type.
Because AB blood types are rare, it’s important that donors with this blood type donate on a regular basis. People with AB blood types are universal plasma donors, meaning any blood type can receive their plasma.
Type AB-positive red cells may only be transfused to type AB-positive patients.
However, Sam discovered a few years ago that his AB positive blood is the rarest of the rate.
“Shortly after I started platelets, they would put stickers on the container,” said Sam. “It said CMV. I asked the technician ‘What is CMV?’ It is a virus that 85 percent of the adult population has been exposed to. I have not been exposed to it.
“They cannot give a blood product to a neonatal patient from someone that has been exposed to the CMV virus. So, 15 percent of the adult population doesn’t have the CMV virus plus I am a universal donor so that puts me in an even smaller group of donors.”
According to Jeremy Martin, Monroe Regional Director for Life Share, Sam is sort of a white elephant.
“The body retains certain antibodies,” said Martin. “They are generally harmless to adults, but they can be fatal to babies. So, when you are CMV-negative, it means you are one of the few people who can donate to babies. It helps save the lives of babies. It’s why it’s so important. There are so few of them that can do that. So, in a way, Sam is kind of a unicorn.”
In addition to saving babies, Sam’s platelets are also critical in saving the lives of cancer patients.
“They really are life savers,” said Martin. “They are heroes. Platelets are so effective for our cancer patients. They need those to keep enduring chemo to get through that. Our burn victims really benefit from our plasma donors. So any time someone comes in and can donate in some form the product stays in our area in our local hospitals to benefit our neighbors, our friends, our families. Universally, no one is immune to it. You really are saving someone’s family member.”
Once Sam found out this information, he became almost fanatical about donating. Every other weekend, Sam and Linda drive to Monroe so Sam can donate platelets.
“He has really been obsessed with it,” said Linda. “He plans vacations around it. And he will reschedule it if he has to miss for whatever reason. He gets upset if he misses one of those appointments. He obsesses since both of his grandfathers died from cancer. His dad died in his early 60s. His only brother died from cancer in early 60s. He really got caught up in the cancer part first.
“Sam loves little kids. Absolutely loves kids. And obviously babies too. So, when he found out he was like ‘this makes it a double gift.’ And by George, Sam isn’t going to miss.”
Sam did admit that during Covid, he was ready to quit a couple of times.
“During Covid, like almost everybody, I was in a funk,” said Sam. “I was coming to Tech every day and working with people who were scared and didn’t want to come. I was working with people who were taking advantage of the system. In general, I was in a pretty bad mood for a while.
“I came home one day and told Linda that I wasn’t going to donate anymore. I had to get up early and drive to Monroe. By the time you get there and finish, it’s three hours later. By then you’ve killed your Saturday. I said I’ve done my duty.”
Call it a coincidence. Call it an act of God. But the next night, Sam got a phone call that got his attention.
“The very next night I got one of those automated calls,” said Sam. “Typically, I don’t answer those but for some reason I did. It was a young woman who said, ‘I want you to know on X date you gave platelets, and my baby was in the hospital and received them.’ She knew all of the correct information. The date. The platelets type. She didn’t know me, but the call had an impact on me.”
Although Sam said he has never met anyone that he knows received his blood or plasma or platelets, he knows that it’s helping people. And that’s all that takes to keep him going every other weekend.
“That is how he was raised by his parents,” said Linda. “That is one of the reasons I decided to marry him. I had been married once and wasn’t going to get married again. But Sam is such a unique man. We have been married for 35 years so I guess I did okay.
“If he finds out someone needs something, he does it. That is what makes him special. He doesn’t have to know you. If you have a need and he sees it or knows about it, he will try to help. That’s just who he is.”
Martin said places like Life Share Blood Center need more people like Sam Wallace.
“We are very blessed to have a group of responsible donors that religiously come in and donate platelets,” said Martin. “That is an extraordinary commitment to our community, and we are so thankful for Sam and donors like Sam. We couldn’t serve our community without them.
“My family has benefited from (people like Sam). It’s a unique experience. It’s humbling for them to know their life was literally saved by a total stranger. The gratefulness towards the donors … there are a lot of tears of thankfulness.”
Martin said anyone wishing to become a blood donor can contact them at 318-322-4445 or go to lifeshare.org to find out more information. The Life Share Blood Center in Monroe is located at 2909 Kilpatrick Blvd.
To report an issue or typo with this article – CLICK HERE