The odds are good that on Sunday, April 27, Mary and Leon Justesen will be at the Red Cross blood drive held at the Walnut Grove United Methodist Church in Hurdle Mills.
By mathematical calculations, the Justesen family has saved or helped at least 675 people by giving blood. Over the years, Mary, Leon, their daughter, Ellen Carr, and daughter-in-law, Kelli Justesen, have donated more than 200 units of blood.
Carlye Carr, who has been coordinating the Walnut Grove blood drive since 1998, said the Justesens are familiar faces at the event each time it’s held.
“I can always count on Justesens,” she said. “… It’s very unusual they’re not there to give blood. They’ve given over 200 units of blood, I think, last time I calculated that, about 225 plus.”
She added Mary Justesen has donated about 125 pints of blood on her own.
Carlye Carr said the Walnut Grove blood drive, held a few times a year, is a popular collection site given its convenience of being held on Sundays and following church.
“We’ve had wonderful community support, and we generally collect 100 units a year,” she said. “Everybody knows a lot of people know each other from the community, so if there’s a wait, people usually talk to each other. … A lot of these people are hardworking people, and it would be nice for them to take a long nap on a Sunday afternoon, but they don’t.”
For Mary and Leon Justesen, the tradition of donating goes back years. Mary Justesen said she was going to give before she was 18 when she had just starting nursing school. For Leon Justesen, it was seeing his father devote time at blood drives in rural North Dakota.
Ever since, the Justesens have donated whenever they are able to. Mary Justesen, a breast cancer survivor, said she gives because there is always a need.
“I’m a nurse, and I know there is a big need for it,” she said. “If you just think about, I mean you can read online how much it takes or one heart operation—it’s phenomenal how much blood is needed. It’s more now than it ever was because they’re doing more kinds of surgeries like that, trauma, everything.”
Leon Justesen agreed by saying it’s a nice deed to do.
“It’s just a good thing you can do for a fellow man,” he said. “It doesn’t take much time, and it’s not very painful. It doesn’t cost you anything. Anybody that needs it can use it. I would encourage others to give, too. … Our reason for giving is not to receive some honor or something out of it; we just do it because it needs to be done.”
According to the Red Cross, although an estimated 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate, fewer than 10 percent actually do. Mary Justesen described that number as pathetic considering each pint of blood can save up to three lives after it’s processed.
To Justesens, just one hour of someone’s time and just one pint of blood can help a lot.
“We would just encourage anybody who thinks they’re eligible, they will tell you whether you are or not,” Mary Justesen said. “At least try because there is such a need for it.”