Longtime nurse says Springfield blood donors in good hands

Kelly Skelton talks with Beryl Boggess, left, and Theresa Burns as she gets ready to donate blood at the Community Blood Center in December. The Blood Center closed at the end of the year. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

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Kelly Skelton talks with Beryl Boggess, left, and Theresa Burns as she gets ready to donate blood at the Community Blood Center in December. The Blood Center closed at the end of the year. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

The job was close to home and offered a mother with young children a key benefit: weekends and holidays off.

So in April of 1975, 26-year-old Beryl Boggess left St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Dayton, where she’d both graduated from nursing school and worked for seven years, with a simple plan.

She’d bide her time working at the Springfield branch of the Community Blood Center until her children were in school full time, then find another job.

Not one to sit still, Boggess plans to start looking for that job in February. But when the center’s doors closed permanently on Friday, Dec. 28, the 43 years and nine months she spent there made her such a community institution that for years now, I’ve been telling new donors two critical pieces about Beryl: that she actually invented blood and, although he was a very old man at the time, she did draw a pint from Moses.

The bottom line: Among Springfield-area donors, I’m just one of her many fans.

Over coffee recently, Boggess confided that her plans for a short stay at the center began to unravel early on.

“I wasn’t there very long until I figured out people who give blood are really nice people.

“They don’t like to hear that,” she added, “but it’s true.”

When new to the business, Boggess was shocked that donors were almost always upset if they were unable to donate for one reason or another. As striking as donors’ sincerity, she said, was the proportion of donors who had served in the military.

“When I started, there were people donating who had been in World War II and the Korean War,” she said. Many considered it as much a part of their routine as brushing their teeth, she said, a tradition that continued with Vietnam era veterans.

On a slow day at the center’s first Springfield location on Hampton Place, the military also provided a sense of security. “We’d just go next door,” to see if any of the recruiting officers were available, Boggess explained. “If they didn’t have time, they’d send their new recruits over.”

“And, see, here’s the other thing” about all donors, she said. “We would tell everybody it takes an hour for whole blood. Then donors would come in, and you could tell they were anxious because they’d been in there for 30 minutes.”

The reason?

“People who donate blood do everything else, too,” she said – volunteer at school, volunteer at church, volunteer in the community. “If we took all those people and locked them up for a couple of weeks, nothing would get done. It’d be a hot mess out there.”

For a blood center employee, Boggess explained, all this is a boon.

“Everybody has bad days. I might see something on the news and something terrible happened. But I’d get (to work), and here’s all these positive, happy people. I’m there with them all day. How can I be mean, nasty and miserable?”

This is the point at which a loyal donor like me is required to perk up in a donation chair and say: “I don’t know how you manage to be so nasty, either, Beryl, but, by God, you do.”

Just as Boggess knew to expect such things from donors, she knew the operation well enough that “somewhere in the ’80s,” as she recalls, she became supervisor of the Springfield location.

That meant she was well aware of the growth and change in the business that led to a move to its larger, second location at 2200 N. Limestone St. in 1996.

The new space set the stage for a still developing trend: The increased use of apheresis machines that use centrifugal force to separate and collect plasma and platelets from whole blood and return the rest of the blood to the donor. The blood center calls plasma and platelets vital to the treatment of cancer, organ transplants, burn and trauma patients, and the reason apheresis machines are part of the expanded area blood drive schedule that began this month.

Boggess cherishes special memories she’s received from donors.

One involves a woman who, light-headed after giving blood, ended up on the floor of the center at a time when it was terribly busy. Once the staff had gradually moved her into a chair, then to a bathroom to rest and recover, the woman volunteered to fold T-shirts to help with the crowd.

“She wasn’t thinking of herself,” Boggess said. “She was thinking about how to help us on a big, busy day.”

Another recollection involves a man who had been donating for five years came into the center to donate the day his wife died of cancer. It wasn’t only that fellow nurse Theresa Burns, busy with apheresis patients, “stayed there and listened to him” while he was “just pouring out his heart,” Boggess said. It was that, on a busy day, not one donor left, even those who had to wait an hour-and-a-half just to be screened.

A donor also helped Boggess at a time when she, herself, was grieving for her mother.

“I’d never seen her before,” she said of the donor. “She was probably in her 50s, and she’d been in some kind of an accident because her face had some scars on it.”

In the screening booth, the woman said she had come because her dog had died that day and she thought donating would make her feel better. The woman then said that during her dog’s final days, when she had complained about having to take the animal outside in the wee hours, her son had asked her, “How often are you going to be able to go out at 4 in the morning and see the stars?”

After a time Boggess, whose loss of her mother had made it difficult for her to visit her parents’ home, had a change of mind and heart. “Until then I didn’t think, ‘This is the opportunity to spend time with your Dad.’”

She never saw that donor again.

She is not worried that the closing of the center will stop people in Springfield and Clark County from donating.

One reason is that those staffing the mobile units that will visit Maiden Lane Church of God the second Monday of every month, First Christian Church on the third Tuesday of every month, and Springfield Regional Medical Center every other month are the same kind of “people people” as the blood center has always had.

“Pretty soon, all the donors are going to see each other (at the drives), they’re going to get to know the new staff, and you won’t able to keep them from donating,” she said.

“I’ll be leaving the blood center in the good hands of all those donors,” she said – the same ones who stopped her from looking for a new job for almost 44 years.

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