Krakow native Ken Schlitt is mostly retired from the American Red Cross, both in terms of working for the organization and in volunteer work — but that doesn’t stop him from his continual recruitment for the platelet donation program.
“I’m going to talk you into becoming a donor,” he says by way of greeting.
Schlitt, 73, was a driving force in starting the platelet center in Krakow in 2004.
He first started donating blood to the Red Cross in 1963.
“In the late ’90s I got a call asking if I wanted to donate platelets,” Schlitt said. “I was totally dumb to what platelets were.”
At that time, the Red Cross started coming to the area with machines to collect platelets, similar to how the organization still does for whole blood donations.
Various groups would host them for drives. He said yes, though and from there, “I just got the urge to see if I couldn’t increase the amount of donations they got.”
He began recruiting donors, but was still working full time. He ran Spartan Showcase for 25 years and then had a 10-year career in selling insurance.
He retired in 2002, and the following year he began working for the Red Cross in Krakow.
Recruiting donors was his main job. He visited churches, meetings and other events to recruit donors.
And between 1999 and 2008, he had recruited more than 900 people to donate platelets.
“In 1990 they started with eight or nine donors per month,” Schlitt said. “When I left in 2008, we were doing about 150 donors per month.”
Though not all of the recruits donated continually, Schlitt takes pride that 900 new donors signed up to give it a try.
He helped secure a good, steady donor base. About nine people can donate each day at the center, which has three beds.
Because of the gradual influx in donors, Schlitt said he was able to talk the Red Cross into opening the facility, which is located at 3021 Highway A.
At that time, employees were still bringing out equipment from St. Louis daily, as they had always done. At the end of the day, they packed back up and went back to St. Louis.
“We kept getting busier and busier and busier,” Schlitt said.
Within three or four months of renting out the space, in 2004, the Red Cross decided to leave equipment at the facility permanently and began sending employees to staff the center five days per week.
The Krakow center only does platelet donations. Platelets are tiny cells in your blood that form clots and stop bleeding.
The cells are important in surviving and fighting cancer, chronic diseases, and traumatic injuries.
According to the Red Cross, every 30 seconds someone in the U.S. needs platelets.
And because platelets must be used within five days, new donors are needed every day.
Platelets can be donated weekly and you only have to wait three days after giving blood, Schlitt noted.
“Everything is exactly the same as you do for whole blood,” he said. “The only difference is you get put on a machine that takes the blood out of one arm, centrifugal force spins the platelets out, and then the blood gets put back in on the other side.”
It takes about 10 pints of blood to collect enough platelets for one recipient.
In all, the process takes 70 to 112 minutes.
Schlitt retired from the Red Cross in 2008 but continued donating until he was no longer able.
“I loved it. Of all the jobs I did, I think I loved the Red Cross the best, and I really hated to hang it up,” he said.
Schlitt received the American Red Cross Lifesavers Award at an appreciation dinner in 2012, noting that he “provided the spark and opportunity to ignite the communities of Washington and Union to create the Red Cross biomedical facility at Krakow Corners.”
As a recruiter, Schlitt donated twice each month, or about 20 times per year.
Overall, he’s donated 404 times and over 600 people have received his platelets.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Schlitt said he’s been lucky not to have anyone in his family or a close friend need platelets.
“For me (recruiting donors) was a challenge,” he said. “It’s the one gift you give and you’ll never know who you gave it to.”
Now, Schlitt said you may find out where your platelets went, but you’ll still not find out who received the platelets.
Schlitt still helps organize blood and platelet donor drives through the St. Gertrude/St. Ann Knights of Columbus Council. The goal is to host three blood drives this year.
He is active with his church, St. Gertrude, and has served as the Rotary president in the past.
To become a platelet donor, people can call 1-800-Red-Cross, or the Krakow Donor Center, 636-239-2231.