2 donors bleed life into Red Cross Blood Brothers are prized contributors during shortage

April 22, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Ellis A. Caplan, a Jewish fellow from Randallstown, and David J. Kovalic, a Catholic from Parkville, call themselves the Blood Brothers and not because they're Internal Revenue Service auditors.

Every 56 days or so, they get the urge and phone each other. Mr. Kovalic says, "Ellis, how about it?" Or Mr. Caplan asks, "Dave, you ready?"

Off go the IRS men again to give whole blood.

O-positive Caplan, 50, has given 107 pints and is working toward his 14th gallon. A-positive Kovalic, 46, is almost a 12-gallon man, having donated 94 pints.

For 18 years this act has been going on, to the delight of the American Red Cross, which says only 5 percent of eligible donors give regularly -- few give like the Blood Brothers.

During periodic shortages, such as now, reliable "multigallon" donors are especially prized. The Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Red Cross says it is below the levels needed to supply the normal demand for three days in seven blood types. Only AB positive, rare but little used, is plentiful now.

Before the friends give blood, they usually meet at some eatery for a late breakfast bulk-up. "We talk baseball, camping, only on occasion IRS," says Mr. Caplan. He has 28 years with the agency. Mr. Kovalic has 24 years. Or they talk about their families -- both are married with children.

These are the only times the old friends see each other. They are assigned to different Baltimore IRS offices -- Hopkins Plaza and St. Paul Street -- and as corporate field auditors work outside on separate cases. "Our personal lives are apart," says Mr. Kovalic. "It's a shame be-cause we always hit it off so well."

But 90 percent of the time they've donated their pints together, often side-by-side, chatting on the gurneys, or recently, on reclining chairs. "They've got beach chairs now," Mr. Caplan says. "It's very pleasant."

They recline and give at 4700 Mount Hope Drive, Seton Business Park, at the regional Red Cross covering Northern Virginia to Central Pennsylvania. The donation center tries to collect 1,500 pints a day. Last year it oversaw the donation of 290,000 pints at Red Cross locations -- 132,175 pints from the Baltimore area.

The duo began as part of an IRS quartet at the Federal Building in 1978. One was giving blood and asked if anyone wanted to join. Three did. "Two dropped out after a year, and Ellis and I have done it ever since as good friends -- come hell or high water," Mr. Kovalic says.

They first picked up the habit in 1968 in separate service tours. Mr. Caplan answered a volunteer Army call. Mr. Kovalic says, "Back in the Air Force, they gave me a choice one day -- march in full dress in front of a full colonel in 90 degrees or give blood. You can guess. Those marchers came back cussing and asked what we did. We gave a pint of blood and ate steak and eggs."

When the two donors showed up together again Friday to slight applause at the Red Cross, veteran volunteer Peggy Goldberg was asked her opinion of them. "Terrible," she deadpanned. Kidding is part of the routine.

"I'd rather give than receive," Mr. Caplan joked.

They differ on why more eligible donors don't give. Mr. Caplan says people worry about dirty needles, contracting a disease such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome. His buddy figures it's just avoiding the sight of a needle, the needle prick or the sight of blood.

To possible donors, Mr. Caplan says, "Go in there and try it. They use clean needles. It's not as difficult as people think. One reason I give so much is they use so much blood for children. You can save a life. What better way to help? It makes you feel good."

Mr. Kovalic says, "Donation time is six to eight minutes. In and out in less than an hour. You get in the habit. There's nothing to it." Both figure that with the body's 10 to 12 pints of blood, a person won't miss a pint. The body replaces the liquid part of the pint in a few hours and the blood cells in four to six weeks.

They include women in their blood donor appeal. The regional Red Cross reports 55 percent male donors and 45 percent female donors. Nationally, this gap is wider.

Both men, however, draw the line at giving platelets, often urgently needed for cancer patients. Mr. Caplan doesn't give because his platelet count is low.

Platelets are blood parts drawn through a process called apheresis. In a two-hour procedure, blood is taken from one arm, separated from other blood parts in a spinning machine and returned to the other arm without platelets.

Platelets can be given every two weeks, but 56 days are needed to let the body recoup between whole blood donations. Platelets have a five-day life span, as opposed to 42 days for whole blood. Donors can give both ways.

Platelet donors rest their arms without moving for about 90 minutes. Nurses are called to scratch itches. Donors need to be patient.

"That would drive me nuts," Mr. Kovalic says.

Pub Date: 4/22/96

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