DAYTON, Ohio - Harold O'Connell's colleagues at Ohio EPA knew there was no way to replace the spirit of the friend they lost in 2011. He was a man who "walked the walk" as a devoted environmentalist, wellness advocate, and blood donor.
But they were inspired to fill his shoes in a specific way by donating the blood he would be giving if he was still alive. That tradition continued Thursday, Jan. 5 with the sixth annual "Harold O'Connell Memorial Blood Drive" at the Dayton Community Blood Center.
Harold collapsed and died of a heart attack after finishing the Tadmor 10K Road Race at the Taylorsville MetroPark in August of 2011. His family and colleagues celebrated his memory with the first Harold O'Connell Memorial Blood Drive in January of 2012.
More than 18 supporters signed the registry to donate in Harold's honor for Thursday's blood drive. They helped boost collections at the Dayton CBC Donor Center to 50 registrations and 40 whole blood donations, plus 15 platelet and plasma donations, for 129 percent of the goal.
Cathy Altman is among the core group at Ohio EPA who worked with Harold for years and has supported every blood drive in his honor. "We have people that only donate for this," she said. "It still counts and it's still good and we're glad they do!"
Megan Shortridge joined the Dayton EPA office in August and was one of three staff members who made their first lifetime donation at Thursday's blood drive. Megan worked for EPA in Florida but is originally from Toledo, so she wasn't bothered by Thursday's snow. "I was prepared for this!" she said.
"It's an easy sell in our office!" said Matt Walbridge, who made his 78th lifetime donation Thursday.
Marie Lammers and Michael Brown are both O positive blood types, so their donations Thursday helped boost inventory that had started the day in short supply. Robert Moore is also an O positive blood type, and he made a double red blood cell donation.
All are dedicated to helping CBC, especially on the day of Harold's blood drive. "I get called," said Michael Brown, "But for this one, I said I've got to go on the fifth."
Harold was a Pied Piper of wellness who recruited co-workers for lunch-time training runs or to compete in Ohio River Road Runners Club events. His colleagues say environmentalism was not just his job, but a commitment. He was also a cornea and tissue donor.
Harold was proud of his "Five Gallon Donor" pin. His last donation was his 48th, making him a "Six Gallon Donor." His friends say in all these causes, he led by example and was a source of encouragement and inspiration.
"He was a regular blood donor, and he talked about it," said Cathy. "He shared that information, but it was not a 'pressure' thing. Instead, it was, "Hey, you want to go? It's not that bad.' He promoted it."
Now seven years after his death, Harold's friends are still hearing his voice and following his lead.