A regular blood donor for the past 60 years, Fort Myers resident John Sheppard went after the Guinness Book of World Records Thursday morning at the Lee Memorial Blood Center, giving his 315th pint of blood through the Lee Memorial Health System since 1957.
Before he donated 500 mL of blood around 11 a.m., he told the room full of media and community members that donating blood has not been about him, but rather about a good friend who was wounded in Korea in 1951.
He met his friend Gene Prevatt at Fort Myers High School in 1950. After graduation he went away to college and Prevatt joined the U.S. Marines. Prevatt was severely wounded and almost lost his life in 1951 and was transferred to a hospital in Jacksonville, which was where Sheppard was attending summer school.
John Sheppard donating blood Tuesday morning.
Sheppard paid a visit to his friend in the hospital, which left him weeping after he left the room because he felt so bad for his Prevatt due to the condition he was in and what he did for his country.
The following week Sheppard donated his first pint of blood during a school blood drive and thought about Prevatt throughout the donation process when he was 18 years old.
After that first donation, he continued donating blood at school, in the Army and then through the Lee Memorial Health System.
In 2004, Sheppard was at the hospital donating blood when he ran into his friend's niece. It had been years since he last heard or seen Prevatt, so he asked for his address so he could write him a letter. Sheppard said in the letter he expressed how much Prevatt inspired him to donate his blood.
After Prevatt received the letter, they bonded and caught up on what they missed and became good friends again. Prevatt died three years ago and his wife asked Sheppard if he would give the eulogy in Arkansas, which he agreed to do.
To this day, 60 years later, Sheppard continues to think about his friend every time he donates blood.
Sheppard said he also wants to encourage people when they are young to start donating their blood because he began when he was young.
He said if a half percent more people would donate their blood, they would not have a blood shortage throughout the Lee Memorial Health System.
Sheppard joked that no one would be able to tell that he gave blood 315 times because there is no a track record on his arm.
Lee Memorial Health System Blood Technician Lee Tharp-Admire, who drew Sheppard's 315th pint of blood Thursday morning, said she has drawn blood from Sheppard's arm for the majority of the last 40 years.
"He is an awesome friend," Tharp-Admire said. "It couldn't have happened to a finer person."
She said after seeing the same donors time after time over the years, you become good friends with them.
"He is like family," Tharp-Admire said.
Since all of the blood donated through the Lee Memorial Blood Center stays in the community, with almost 39 gallons of blood donated, it is estimated Sheppard has saved almost 1,000 lives.
"He has kept that spirit alive," Lee Memorial Health System President Jim Nathan said about blood donations.
He said he was honored to be at the event Thursday morning because he met Sheppard when he first moved into the area 35 years ago.
"This is an unbelievable event," Nathan said.
Lee Memorial Health System Board Chairman Richard Akin told Sheppard after he was done donating blood Thursday that he has been a hero of his for a long time. He went on to say that he has also been an inspiration to the entire community for the amount of blood he has donated over the years.
"Thank you on behalf of the Lee Memorial Health System," Akin said.
After he leaves the blood center every time he donates blood, Sheppard said he feels good because he knows he has done something worthwhile.
"It is an exhilarating experience, you feel great when you leave," Sheppard said.
He said he will continue to donate his blood every 56 days as long as his veins and health hold up.
Other official witnesses in attendance Thursday morning to record the event for the Guinness Book of World Records included Chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners Frank Mann, the Rev. David Deitzel, Dr. F. Lee Howington and former mayor for the city of Fort Myers. Jim Humphrey.
The last Guinness Book of World Records was set for whole blood donations was accomplished by Phillip Baird of Australia when he gave his 231st whole blood donation on Dec. 24, 2009.