Brian Boyle is the perfect spokesman.
After all, who would better understand the importance of donating blood than someone who required 36 blood transfusions after an automobile accident in 2004 in Southern Maryland left him with 60 percent blood loss and catastrophic injuries.
Knowing the holiday rush is a difficult time to find blood donors, Boyle, 24, offered up his services last winter by hosting a series of Iron Heart blood drives, named for the autobiography he wrote about his ordeal. He plans to do the same come 2011.
"It's my way of showing my appreciation to the blood donors and everyone who helped me in my recovery," said Boyle, a Maryland native who lives near La Plata. "I'm trying to use my story as a way to give back and help others."
"Iron Heart" is a first-person account that tells how the accident left Boyle with his heart ripped across his chest, collapsed lungs and multiple organ failure. He required 14 major surgeries and several months of hospitalization.
Boyle survived, his doctors said, because he was fit. Before the accident, he was a champion swimmer, bodybuilder and powerlifter who had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to his freshman year at St. Mary's College of Maryland. The accident put those plans on hold for a while, but last spring Boyle graduated from St. Mary's with honors.
After a long recovery, he now regularly competes in marathons and triathlons and recently completed his first ultramarathon of 50 miles. Whenever he competes, he dons American Red Cross attire to show his support.
The 16 Iron Heart blood drives, held last December and January throughout Maryland, Washington and Virginia, collected 1,116 productive units of blood for the American Red Cross Greater Chesapeake & Potomac Blood Services Region.
Nearly 50 percent was blood type "O" or universal blood that can be used for trauma patients when there isn't time to test for blood type. Also, of the people who came to give blood, 25 percent were first-time donors.
One of those first-time donors was Dawn-Moree Dugan, an emergency medical technician with Ironsides Volunteer Rescue Squad in Charles County who treated Boyle at the scene of his accident. When she heard he was putting on the blood drive in her area, she decided to participate.
"I had never given blood before," she said. "When I heard he was personally going to be there, that's why I did it."
Boyle is raising awareness for a younger generation of donors, says Mike Baisey, communications manager for the regional Red Cross. He can do that, adds Baisey, because people relate to him.
"He appeals to so many people," he said. "It really is a special occasion when donors are able to meet someone who can say 'Thank you.'"
During one of his blood drives, Boyle had an opportunity to donate blood himself for the first time at Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly, where he was treated after his accident.
The Iron Heart blood drives are unique, with donors receiving a signed copy of the book and an opportunity to meet Boyle. They also get a firsthand account of how taking the time to donate blood can affect someone's life.
The idea behind the drive was to put a face with blood donation. "I'm there to show them the physical proof of what their donation is," said Boyle. "I think it gives them a boost because they see [being a donor] really is saving lives."
For his efforts, the regional American Red Cross honored him with its Spokesman of the Year Award in 2009 and 2010.
This winter he expects to host more Iron Heart blood drives, which Red Cross organizers have decided to hold after the New Year to attract more donors.
"New Year's seems to be a good time. It lets people get the year started off right," Boyle said.
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