Giving platelets is special for donor after 100 times


Ed Eckenrode didn't make much of his milestone. Smiling modestly, he called it his small contribution -- "just something you can do to help someone."

Yesterday marked the 100th time that Mr. Eckenrode lay back, rolled up his sleeves, took a needle in each arm and relaxed for two hours. That's about how long it takes to make a donation of platelets, the tiny blood cells that cause clotting and help cancer patients endure the rigors of chemotherapy.

"It doesn't cost you anything to do this. There's no reason not to do it," Mr. Eckenrode said, relaxing at the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center while his blood flowed painlessly out his left arm, through a separating machine and into his right.

Mr. Eckenrode, a machinist with Grumman Aircraft Systems in Glenarm, didn't start this routine with records in mind. Nor did he have an emotional investment in cancer therapy. That, in a tragic coincidence, came years later.

It all started in 1978, when a Grumman employee's leukemia-stricken relative began getting chemotherapy at Hopkins, and company officials put out a plea for workers to donate platelets.

Mr. Eckenrode didn't respond right away, but he began in May 1979 to make pilgrimages to Hopkins every two months or so.

He caught the spirit, quickening the pace of his donations to every month, then to every 21 days.

Mr. Eckenrode was already the cancer center's front-running donor when his 18-year-old son, Jason -- healthy all his life -- suddenly developed leukemia. Jason, who had graduated from high school and gone to work for Grumman, began chemotherapy himself and needed platelet transfusions.

Jason died on New Year's Eve 1989. He had been sick just a year.

Tears streaming down his face yesterday, Mr. Eckenrode had NNTC hard time talking about Jason's death and the irony that he died of the very disease that his father, in a small but real way, had devoted so much time to curing. His wife, Deborah, said she began donating platelets, too, shortly after Jason died: "I just felt that people had helped him so much, and now there must be something that I could do to help others."

Not surprisingly, the Evenrodes' altruism has deeply moved the cancer center staff, who unveiled a spread of cookies, cake and punch yesterday to celebrate the record-setting donation.

"We're talking about a person who made a commitment and was already a league leader when his son got sick," said Sue Wright, technical director of the Johns Hopkins Hemapheresis Center. "Their commitment to the program was only enhanced by his illness and his death. I have the ultimate respect for the two of them."

Cancer patients often need transfusions of platelets because the chemotherapy drugs don't discriminate: They target cancerous cells but can destroy normal cells along the way. Without the platelet transfusions, cuts and bruises might erupt in life-threatening bleeding.

Now, 30 regular donors come from Grumman, a company that has encouraged its workers to continue the tradition begun 13 years ago. Yesterday, Glen Richardson gave for the first time. Michael Tama's donation was his 65th.

Ed Eckenrode made no promises,but he didn't rule out a 200th visit, saying, "I'll probably stay with it."

Where to donate

Here are three centers in Baltimore that take donations of blood components, including platelets:

* Johns Hopkins Hemapheresis Center: 955-8463.

* American Red Cross: 764-7000, Ext. 423.

* University of Maryland Cancer Center: 328-7508.

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