It's not often that you know someone who has saved thousands of lives. I have been blessed by knowing -- and calling my friend -- George Kimm, a quiet-spoken, selfless man, who died last week after a full, generous life that spanned eight decades.
It is not an exaggeration to say that thousands of people are alive today because George regularly rolled up his sleeve and donated a pint of his precious blood.
And when he wasn't donating himself, he was helping and encouraging others to donate. He volunteered hours of his time in the canteen at Houchin Community Blood Bank, where donors sip juice and munch cookies after they give blood.
When George died last week after complications following a heart attack, he was looking forward to reaching his goal of donating 33 gallons of blood. He was only one pint short of that goal. And he wanted to donate that pint at Houchin's new consolidated facility on Buena Vista Road, south of White Lane, which is scheduled to open next month.
George was Houchin's top donor and held the county record for the most blood donated by an individual -- an amazing accomplishment for anyone, especially someone of George's advanced years.
Recently, I talked to George about his commitment to donating blood so his family, friends and perfect strangers would live.
"Once you get started, donating a gallon and then a couple of gallons, it gets to be kind of a competitive thing," George said with a laugh. "You figure you can make five gallons and then you figure you might as well continue.
"After a while, you don't even think about it. And then you get to know the people. Houchin is like a family. There's camaraderie. You get together with other donors to do something that is needed. It's great. It's a nice place, with a family feeling."
George's march to his donor milestone was slow at the beginning. He gave only occasionally as a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree, and during his service in the Army.
But when he returned to Bakersfield in the late 1950s to manage Farmer John Eggs ranches, the doctor who attended to the birth of George's daughter, GeAnn, encouraged him to make his donations more regular. The doctor convinced him that the need for blood and donors was increasing as the city grew and medical procedures advanced.
George heeded the doctor's plea and inspired a family tradition of giving. His three sons, Greg, Gardner and Glenn, and daughter GeAnn all donate blood.
George's encouragement to others to donate was simple: "Don't wait until someone in your family needs blood. If you do, someone else will have to step into the breach and provide it. Calamity happens. We need to have blood here now."
Consider some of these average demands for various types of patients: cancer, eight units a week; leukemia, two units a day; heart bypass surgery, five units; bleeding ulcers, 30 units; hip replacement, five units; brain surgery, 10 units; sickle cell anemia, four units per treatment; auto accident, 50 units; and organ transplant, 40 units. There have been instances where a patient receiving a liver transplant required 100 units of blood.
An estimated 60 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, but less than 3 percent do so each year. With the shelf life for red blood cells being only 42 days, the supply must be continually replenished. Shortages are averted only by generous people, like George, who get into the habit of donating blood.
Those who wish to say thank you to George Kimm for getting into the habit and donating his lifesaving blood are invited to attend his funeral service 11 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Bakersfield.
Following George's lead by becoming a regular blood donor also would be a fitting memorial. With winter illnesses seriously affecting the regular pool of blood donors, Houchin is currently in critical need of A-negative and O-positive blood. All blood is needed, but these two types are in especially low supply.
Greg Gallion is the president and chief executive officer of Houchin Community Blood Bank. For more information, go to www.hcbb.com. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.