John Wagner: Understanding The Need

by Tom Rademacher, Veteran Grand Rapids Press columnist and long-time Michigan Blood donor

To be completely honest about it, John Wagner had never been exposed that intimately to the need. He’d never lost someone close. Hadn’t known anyone who endured a traumatic accident. And wasn’t viscerally tied to someone gravely ill.

Until, that is, John’s older brother Joe was diagnosed with cancer.

That changed everything. And today, John Wagner, 33, is a lot more conscious of the ever-present need for blood.

“I just had never known anyone who needed blood, and so I really wasn’t aware of how necessary it was for people every day,” John acknowledged recently. “I didn’t really know people who were terminally ill or in bad accidents.”

John underwent a transformation, though, around the age of 29, some four years ago. That’s when Joe was stricken with thyroid and skin cancer. Around the same time he learned of his brother’s condition, Michigan Blood hosted a drive where John works. And he stepped up.

Today, John says hardly a day goes by that he doesn’t think about the need for blood, and it motivated him to become a regular donor. To date, he’s donated two gallons at the Michigan Blood center in Portage.

It’s a 20-mile trip each way from his home in rural Almena Township (pop. 2,000), where he shares a home on nearly five acres with wife Errin Ironside.

Errin works as a graphic designer for Perrigo Co., a manufacturer and distributor of health-care products.

John, armed with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Northern Michigan University, teaches digital arts for Education for the Arts in Kalamazoo, an arm of the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency.
Together, John and Errin maintain a small farm on their acreage that hosts everything from bees to chickens.

Between full-time jobs and keeping up their hobby farm, it takes a fair amount of their time. But every eight weeks or so, John manages to make the trip to Portage to donate blood. He’s also registered there as a possible bone marrow donor, and has expanded his generosity to regularly donate platelets.

“I would totally give up a half hour here and there, knowing it’s potentially going to be a lifesaver for someone else,” he says.

John feels that anyone fretting about giving blood should know this: The insertion of the needle “is about the only part that really hurts a bit, but only for a second.”

He maintains, in fact, that as far as after-effects, “what hurts a lot worse is a flu shot!”

Since giving blood and coming to realize the incredible gift that it is to others, John says everyone should “take the time to think about the small time commitment it really takes to give.”

“I get it,” he says. “People don’t have a lot of free time these days. And getting poked with a needle isn’t necessarily fun. But it’s not the worst thing that can happen to you. And giving blood can mean the difference between life and death for someone.

“For me, it’s an easy decision.”