SOUTH HAVEN — For the past three decades Keith Bierhalter has rolled up his sleeves to donate blood to the American Red Cross.
Earlier this month during a blood drive at Bethel Baptist Church in South Haven, the firefighter and paramedic reached a milestone by becoming one of the few people to donate 100 pints of blood.
His accomplishment impressed Nancy Baker, a nurse from South Haven. However, Bierhalter said in an interview afterward that he doesn’t want any accolades for his accomplishment.
“I just felt it was the right thing to do,” he said.
Adam Castle, executive director of the Southwest Michigan Chapter of the American Red Cross, said Bierhalter’s feat is something worth mentioning.
“A 100-pint donor is very unusual, and demonstrates an incredible amount of dedication and service,” Castle said. “Each donation can save up to three lives, so this individual could have saved as many as 300 lives just through blood donation.”
Bierhalter, who is now assistant chief of South Haven Area Emergency Services, said he first began donating blood in 1990 at the age of 26.
“Both of my parents donated blood so I started donating blood,” he said.
As a longtime firefighter and paramedic, Bierhalter knows firsthand how much blood donations are relied upon to help hospital patients, especially those involved in serious accidents.
“You donate blood because there’s a great need for it,” he said. “Blood supplies are commonly low. The Red Cross is always advertising for people to donate.”
The need for blood is constant, Castle said.
However, it’s become more urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are continuing to set up blood drives and encourage donors to come out,” Castle said. “Many dedicated donors continued to come out and donate through the pandemic, but we have been challenged to meet hospital demand as of late.”
People can donate blood at two-month intervals and Bierhalter strives to meet that goal, even if he has to travel outside of South Haven to do so.
“I’ve gone to Bloomingdale, Coloma, Paw Paw, Bangor,” he said. “If there’s not one here in South Haven, I just make those ones.”
The pandemic has changed some of the protocols that donors must follow. For instance, they must now make an appointment first to attend a blood drive, rather than just show up the day of the event.
Mask are required to wear as well as COVID-19 testing.
But these modifications haven’t slowed down donors like Bierhalter.
“There’s no need to stop donating,” he said.
Castle said he’s grateful for dedicated donors, especially this summer.
“The blood shortage is extreme, as we have been operating in an emergency state for a couple months,” he said.
Bierhalter is now 57 years old, but has no intention of slowing down when it comes to donating blood.
“I want to donate as much as I can, as long as I can,” he said.
And like his parents, Bierhalter has passed along to his children his desire to help others.
“Both of my kids donate blood,” he said. “They started donating when they were in high school.”
People interested in donating blood or organizations interested in hosting a blood drive can visit www.redcrossblood.org, or call 1-800-red-cross.