Red Cross volunteer driver delivers blood with vigor and a smile

John Reiz pulls the steering wheel hard to the right and gives the Ford Explorer plenty of gas. Three heavy boxes slide across the floor in the backseat and bump against the truck’s walls.

“I have to get around those slowpokes,” Reiz says, smiling.

The 77-year-old travels with precious cargo: Inside those boxes are the bags of donated blood and plasma upon which Wichita hospitals depend. Reiz has spent at least one morning a week for the past seven years hauling gallons of lifesaving materials from the Red Cross blood donation center to local hospitals. He’s logged more than 26,000 miles behind the wheel of American Red Cross vehicles, which he also brings to the car wash every week.

On this particular Monday morning, Reiz, who earned the 2013 Volunteer of the Year award from the American Red Cross Central Plains Region, is headed to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis. It’s about a mile from the Red Cross blood donation center, and Reiz makes the drive in less than two minutes. He unloads a box of bags of blood packed in ice, careful to lift with his legs, not his back, and places the box on a dolly. Reiz maneuvers the dolly through the hospital’s labyrinthine hallways with ease and familiarity. Those same attributes characterize his relationship with the hospital staff members. Reiz says he likes to make small talk with the technicians at the blood centers where he drops off his cargo.

“I’ll bring in three to five boxes and ask them, ‘Have you guys checked for vampires around here?’” Reiz says with a laugh.

Reiz wheels the dolly into a room full of stainless steel equipment, the blood center at the hospital on St. Francis, where medical technician Laurel King is waiting. King breaks into a smile when she hears about Reiz’s Volunteer of the Year honor.

“We’re lucky to have him,” King says. “A great driver makes all the difference.”

Reiz and King’s conversation is interrupted when another technician hands King two pint-sized plastic bags of blood.

“We’ve got an emergency,” the technician says.

In the parking lot, Reiz loads the dolly and an empty cardboard box back into the Explorer. He says he’d recommend volunteering to any retired person like himself.

“It keeps me young and it gives me something to do,” Reiz says.

“You don’t have to just sit there and get old.”

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