Neil Bernstein never donated a drop of blood until his father Frank died.
But six months after his father’s death, Bernstein decided to take up his legacy as a record-setting blood donor.
“Somebody had to pick up where he left off,” Bernstein said. “For years we’d always talked about ‘let’s go together and do it’ but I could never get off work because he always went in the afternoon.”
Bernstein, who fronts a rock band, worked as a bouncer and now works in the environmental sector, has not only become an unlikely ambassador for blood donation, but by recruiting helpers through TV and social media he’s surpassed in a single year his father’s B.C. record of 532 lifetime donations.
Bernstein established a Partners For Life donating group in honour of his father in January 2012. Using his Facebook profile and YouTube channel and by airing his story on TV news, Bernstein recruited 181 people, including 15 first-time donors, to register with the group.
“I just felt it would be easier to hit the number I wanted to hit with a bunch of people,” Bernstein said. “It’s a good cause. Every pint you donate can save up to three lives. That means my dad either prolonged or saved almost up to 1,500 people’s lives. To me, that’s pretty saintly, almost.”
Bernstein and his recruits made 641 donations last year.
That’s an achievement unheard of for a group that isn’t a corporation, business or religious organization, according to Canadian Blood Services.
“Knowing my dad he’d be pretty speechless. He’d be pretty proud,” Bernstein said. “He’d probably also say it’s about fricking time. He’d been bugging me for years.”
Bernstein and friends returned to the clinic at 4750 Oak St. Wednesday to honour Frank, who died at age 72 from bladder cancer in 2011, and to launch the second year of their campaign. Bernstein hopes more people will join the Partners for Life group that honours his father by visiting the clinic and being assigned the group’s number.
Canadian Blood Services says the demand for blood and blood products will continue to grow and urges more Canadians to become regular donors.
The non-profit says hip replacement surgery can require two units (or two donations) of blood, cancer treatment and cardiovascular surgery can require five units, an individual with leukemia can need eight units a week and a person injured in a car accident can require 50 units.
Upon his 500th donation in 2009, Frank, who was originally “absolutely petrified” of needles, told the Courier he would donate blood for as long as he could. “As long as I’m healthy, I expect to do it on my 90th birthday, God willing,” he said. “As long as I don’t have to receive, I will give.”
Bernstein said his father needed blood when he underwent cancer treatment and may have received some of his own rare B-positive blood.
For more information, see blood.ca or to book an appointment, phone 1-888-2-DONATE (1-888-236-6283).