Marshfield resident Ralph "Rocco" Russo celebrates 550th platelet donation
Kraft Family Blood Donor Center faces 'critically' low blood and platelet supply
When his best friend's then 14-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer in 1996, Ralph "Rocco" Russo said he gladly made his first blood platelet donation "because I needed to do whatever I could to help."
The 77-year-old Marshfield grandfather, who has continued the practice for the past 27 years, recently made his 550th platelet donation at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary providing lifesaving blood products to patients at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Platelets act as the body's bandages, allowing blood to clot and wounds to heal. Cancer patients and other critically ill patients often require transfusions of healthy platelets because their blood does not clot properly. Once donated, however, platelets have a shelf life of just five days.
"That's why the need for donors is constant – and why donations on a magnitude like Rocco's are so significant," said Sean Stowell, MD, medical director of the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center and Apheresis at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
It is estimated that Russo's platelet donations, which he makes every other week, have amounted to 69 gallons of blood products that contributed to saving 550 lives.
"I've been going to the Kraft Center for a third of my life, so it's my second home. Everyone is so nice, and the donation process doesn't hurt," said Russo, whose longevity has spanned a hip surgery, three knee operations, and his retirement in 2018. "I know donating helps a lot of people, and it's a walk in the park for me."
Among the "many great people" Russo has met over the years is a man whose bone marrow cancer went into remission following treatments, including an infusion of his Type-O positive blood. In addition, Russo was touched that the celebration of his 300th platelet donation in December 2011 was attended by Nicole Sorensen, whose childhood illness inspired his activism so many years ago.
Sorensen, a chef in the food service industry, was studying to be a nurse when she passed away on May 17, 2012 – one day after her 39th birthday. Russo said he will continue to donate platelets "for as long as I'm able" in her honor.
"Rocco's selfless dedication to helping others has always been deeply admired and appreciated," said Molly McDermott, recruitment program manager at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center. "His commitment – and that of all our donors – is especially important now to ensure that our patients may continue receiving essential medical care."
Donors can make an appointment to give blood or platelets at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center (open Tuesday through Sunday) by calling 617-632-3206 or emailing BloodDonor@partners.org. Walk-ins are welcome at the center, which is located at 35 Binney St. in Boston, Mass.
Pictured, left to right, are Someth Em, lead technician at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center; Ralph "Rocco" Russo, making his 550th blood platelet donation; Russo's wife, Annemarie; and Marie Fleurant, a technician at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center. (Courtesy photo)