These Sisters Have Donated More Than 9 Gallons of Blood Over the Last 70 Years

That's enough blood to save 200 lives. Blood donation is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Blood donation is one of the simplest ways to make a big difference in someone else’s life—because it can literally save it. Siblings Marie Elena Zuccaro and Sister Rosemary Zuccaro grew up with one of the best role models for this practical but incredibly impactful act. Their mother Sally, who passed away in March 2018 at the age of 107, was a faithful blood donor for as long as they can remember. It was only natural that Marie Elena and Sr. Rosemary would follow in her footsteps, leading to regular blood donations to the Red Cross.

Dutiful donations


According to the Red Cross, a person needs to wait eight weeks in between blood donations, and Marie Elena says that she and her sister typically get a call every 60 days as a reminder that they are free to donate again. The importance of blood donation was instilled in them at an early age, when their mother not only donated but also volunteered at their grade school’s blood drive in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Towards the end of her life, Sally could no longer donate as she weighed less than the required 110 pounds, but that didn’t stop her from lending a friendly face to the donor drives. (Curious about what your mother’s health says about your own? These are 12 things to consider).

“She would come and talk to the staff and everyone enjoyed visiting with her,” says Marie Elena who, to date, has given approximately three gallons of blood while Sr. Rosemary has donated five.

It wasn’t only Sally’s dedication to the cause that kept the Zuccaros donating. They also saw firsthand the need for blood.

“When our father was ill and needed to have his leg amputated he needed blood transfusions,” explains Sr. Rosemary. “More recently our seven-year-old great-nephew had a bout with cancer and needed transfusions. So it’s a combination of things that inspire us to donate.” (If you’re unsure how to handle a medical emergency, here’s what you need to know.)

Early memories

Before the Zuccaro sisters were old enough to give blood, Sr. Rosemary recalls establishing a relationship with the Red Cross through a school project.

“A (representative) would ask the students to fill some boxes of items for children that were maybe injured or in some kind of need. We were given two boxes, like about the size of a shoebox, one for the boys and one for the girls. We were asked to donate something for these little children. We could bring in toothbrushes, toothpaste, cars, small toys…whatever we thought children might enjoy.”

It became quite the contest in their classroom to see who could fill their box first. As soon as one was filled, a representative would give them another, and so on.

“So when you ask, what inspired us? Well, I think the very, very fact that we were aware that there were needs of others at such a young age,” says Sr. Rosemary.”I think that all plays a part in helping and now, as adults, whenever we can we donate we do.” (Here are 10 benefits of donating blood.)

Saving lives

Collectively, Marie Elena, Sr. Rosemary, and their mother have given more than nine gallons of blood (75 units), which is enough to save 200 lives, according to Pampee Young, MD, PhD, chief medical officer, Biomedical Services, with the American Red Cross.

“Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood,” says Dr. Young. “The Red Cross must collect more than 2,600 platelet donations and nearly 13,000 blood donations every day for patients at about 2,500 hospitals and transfusion centers nationwide. These lifesaving donations are essential for surgeries, cancer treatment, chronic illnesses, and traumatic injuries. Whether a patient receives whole blood, red cells, platelets or plasma, this lifesaving care starts with one person making a generous blood donation.” These are some secrets your blood type reveals about you.

Donor tips

Squeamish about needles or the sight of blood? There are some things you should know before giving blood, but the Zuccaro sisters understand that being a first-time blood donor can be scary, they say you can rest assured that everyone is there to calm and comfort you through the process.

“If they tell the nurses at the Red Cross donor station that this is their first time, I think that they would help the patient or the donors with their nervousness,” says Sr. Rosemary. “Their staff knows what they’re doing and you don’t have to look when the needle is put into their arm. People who take the blood at the Red Cross are very, very conscious about your feelings and that it’s not always an easy thing to do for new patients.”

If that isn’t enough to get you through the door, consider this: Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, more than 1 million units of blood and platelets are transfused to patients in the United States. Donations of all blood types are urgently needed to ensure lifesaving treatments remain available for patients this holiday season. You can easily find a blood drive near you by going to the American Red Cross site.

“Blood and platelet donations often decline during the holidays as people get busy with holiday activities and travel. Snowstorms and severe winter weather may also cause blood drive cancellations and further impact donations,” says Dr. Young. “Donors are urged to give now to ensure patients don’t have to worry about the availability of blood this winter.”

Before heading to a donor station, find out if there is anything that might prohibit you from donating, like these surprising reasons.