Barry Grant has been donating blood since he was 16. As of Tuesday this week, over the last 42 years he has donated 95 times. In another 10 months, he expects to hit the 100 mark.
He laughs, “I’d like to see an express lane, when I get to a hundred donations, to walk in the door and it’s like Cheers where they say, ‘Norm!,’ and they'd say, ‘Barry!’ and they give me a bed right there.”
Of course, he says, the Canadian Blood Services can’t do that.
“They’ve got to go through the process,” he points out, “even me with 95 donations, and I know of one fellow who has got to be getting close to 150 donations.”
Canadian Blood Services’ primary concern is the safety of its donors and the blood products they provide. Canada’s blood supply is recognized as one of the safest in the world. All prospective donors are screened to minimize the potential for transmission of infectious diseases, and donated blood undergoes extensive testing for infectious diseases, blood groups and compatibility.
For Grant, each donation takes only about an hour, and he always feels better afterwards – not just because he’s helping someone else, but he also feels he’s doing something beneficial for his own body.
“I'm a real car guy. I collect old vehicles and restore them and fix them and all that sort of stuff and I always equate it to the engine oil in a car,” he says. “You can't obviously drain all your blood and put fresh blood in and feel good and have nice clean stuff, but once every two months you can drain off a pint of the old tired stuff and your body is going to rebuild that other pint.”
In 94 donations, he’s never had a problem, he says. He takes precautions to make sure each donation goes well.
“I always hydrate lots,” he says. “You have lots of water during the day before your donation.”
Afterwards, he says, it’s important to take the time to have the cookie and coffee or juice to re-hydrate. He has seen others get faint or dizzy, but he hasn’t experienced those kinds of issues himself.
Grant donates by appointment. He has to go through the same screening process as everyone else, but people with appointments go ahead of the people who haven’t.
“Fifty minutes is about the fastest I've ever done lately to get all the way through and back to work.”
While it takes about an hour to go through the clinic process, the actual donation is over in minutes.
“I take five to six minutes to bleed out a pint,” says Grant.
He says that might be a little faster than average, but, he laughs, “I always say to people being really good at bleeding is probably not a good life skill.”
Grant has been a blood donor since 1973.
“I was born and raised in Biggar, and in Biggar they only came once a year, so when I first started I only donated once a year when I could.”
Since he’s been in the Battlefords, things have changed.
“Now you can donate every 60 days and I try to make most of them when I am available.”
Each visit, he and other donors are screened for any illnesses, dental work, tattoos, medications and other factors that can make them ineligible to give blood at that time.
Looking back, says Grant, “I don't know what brought me in as a 16 year old.”
Maybe it was a “bit of a macho thing back then,” he says.
“Guys goading you, peer pressure, somebody was donating and I said, ‘Sure, let's go donate.’ I think we did have a little group that tried it, and I stuck with it and they kind of dropped off.”
As he got older, he says, it became a habit that once a year he went to the clinic.
“It was the ‘good old days,’” he laughs, “You walked in and 15 minutes later you walked back out and you were a pint lighter.”
He says he always feels better when he donates.
“Personally, I almost feel a little guilty because you're supposed to be saving lives and everything else, but I do it because I feel better.”
Grant came from a railroad family.
“That was Biggar, either farming or railroading,” he laughs.
He started with CNR in Biggar and moved around Alberta and Saskatchewan for 12 years, then decided on a career change.
“I moved into health care and I did 12 years around the province in that ... that was everything from maintenance mechanic, ambulance driver, right up to CEO of a health district, South Country Health District out of Assiniboia.”
“I get bored after about five or 10 years and I do something different,” he laughs.
After leaving the health district CEO position, he said moved on to another profession.
“I was in financial planning,” he says. “That brought me here and I did that for 10 years or so then moved on to automotive sales and insurance.”
Throughout his career changes, Grant has continued to donate blood, wherever he was and whenever he could.
“When I got up into the 70s and 80s with blood donations, I started to think I'd like to follow that pint,” he muses.
An A positive donor, a common blood type, he assumes it would often be a routine use, but “every once in a while it would be the car accident or that person in surgery who really needed blood.”
He says, “It would be interesting to see if you could trace those pints and find out how many people the one pint can help.”
He notes Canadian Blood Services says one pint can help up to three or four people, so he’s happy that now that he is in North Battleford he can donate as often as possible. It takes only an hour to slip away from work and donate.
Presently, Grant is the claims manager with Oasis Insurance.
“We do ATVs, snowmobiles, quads in five provinces.”
The company is North Battleford based, founded by Keith and Melanie Bossaer, and Grant is impressed with the success the Bossaer’s have made of their business. “Keith used to own Prestige Insurance and I was with Keith way back in another career and put in about 12 years with him when I was doing investment and financial planning. I was also doing insurance.”
With an insurance background, Grant has become a recognized appraiser for numerous companies in his off-hours passion for antique and vintage cars.
“It’s just another part of a hobby that I keep busy at.”
Grant is a member of the Battlefords Vintage Automobile Club and president of the Saskatchewan Association of Automobile Clubs. Up to a dozen times a year, he’s at car shows, car meetings, car tours and other car-related events.
“Any weekend in the summer you can go somewhere,” he says.
Like donating blood, his interest in cars began at age 16.
“Dad was away a lot with the CNR and he wasn’t a mechanical person, so if I wanted a car I had to learn to keep the car on the road,” he says. “At 16 I bought a 1960 Pontiac station wagon six-cylinder automatic. It did 65 downhill if you had a wind.”
Keeping that car on the road was an education.
“It was a hundred dollar car and you couldn’t afford to take them to the shop to have them fixed. You had to fix them yourself. “
He says that Pontiac saw most of Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta.
“It stayed on the road until I could afford something better.”
New cars have gone past the “backyard mechanic,” he says.
“That’s why I drive ‘90s and older vehicles, instead of new ones.”
How many vehicles does he have?
“I make a list every once in a while then try and forget it,” he laughs. “Last time I counted, I was up to 17 cars and 11 motorcycles. They are scattered all over the place, in fields and shops and whatnot.”
Presently, he has three cars and one motorcycle that he drives regularly.
“My favourite changes daily,” he says. “Right now the little red Mercedes convertible is just put away for the winter. I’m working on a Jaguar sedan for driving for the winter.”
His collection is continually changing.
“What I try to do is keep one or two for car shows and for my own use and then when I get another one then I decide which one I want to keep and which one is going to be for sale.”
Divorced with grown children, Grant says his kids haven’t been bitten by the car, except for his daughter, who fell for one of his restored vehicles.
“She claimed a Mazda Miata that I had fixed up, a little convertible,” he laughs. “She claimed it from me and that’s her pride and joy.”
In addition to cars and motorcycles, Grant always has a truck as well, for towing and for running around for parts. These also get sold as he moves on to others.
“I’m active in the local car club, usually around for most of the car shows, and, of course, you’ve got to work on them to keep them going, so that keeps me busy doing my part.”
Among the projects that keep him busy has been the construction of a replica service station at the Fred Light Museum, a joint project between the Battlefords Vintage Automobile Club, the museum and the Town of Battleford. The building consists of three rooms. One is a garage bay in which the late Fred Light's original tow truck, now in the process of restoration by BVAC, will be on display.
The building will also house BVAC's club room, where the group will be able to meet, put up its bulletin boards and store filing cabinets. An agreement has been drawn up between the Town, the museum and the car club that states the room will be home base for BVAC as long as there is a viable club and an operating museum.
“We’ve got a spot, we can hang stuff on the walls and it’s ours,” says Grant.
The room is named the Cliff Carstensen Room in memory of a senior member of the club, who passed away during the construction of the service station.
The service station is almost finished, says Grant.
“We’re going to have a grand opening in the spring. We’ve got it all basically built the way we want it. There are a couple of finishing touches, the Esso sign out front and some lights and signage,” he says.
Not the first project undertaken with the Fred Light Museum, BVAC also restored the 1928 GMC fire truck, the first motorized fire truck for the Town of Battleford, now on display in the replica fire hall at the museum.
If you are interested in vintage (25 years or older) or antique cars (30 years or older), Grant says Saskatchewan is one of the best places to indulge in your passion.
“We enjoy what I call the best system for antique vehicles in Canada,” he says. “We’re the envy of all the other provinces, the collectors, because you can get your vehicle on the road with a minimum of a hassle, and inexpensively.”
He says you still want to make sure insurance is in place.
“The antique plate doesn’t carry a lot of insurance — $200,000 liability and $800 or $1,300 worth of coverage depending on whether the deductible applies or not. I always carry additional insurance on my antiques.”
If Grant wasn’t busy enough with work and his passion for cars and motorcycles, he is also involved in the martial arts, training twice a week with Battlefords Karate-Do during the season.
“I go most of the time during our training year, which runs from September through until May,” he says. “We go two times a week here in town, and then if you’ve got tournaments or extra seminars or whatnot you throw in an extra training day.”
The season basically runs the school year, and they use St. Mary School during that time. In the summer, they meet once a week in another location.
“We used to take the summer off, and then you come back in September and really pay for it,” he laughs.
Grant is a second degree black belt.
“I started in Wilkie in 1990,” he says. “I started late, but then I moved around the province and I took different styles when I was in different locations, and when I came back here I came back to the style I had originally started with.”
His twin brother, a fourth degree black belt who now lives in Alberta, got him started. Every now and then they face each other at tournaments.
“I have a perfect record against him in the kumite, in the sparring ring. It’s 0 and 9, I think, the last time we counted,” he laughs. “He’s won every fight that we’ve been in. Before we started training I used to win the odd one, now I haven’t won any.”
The last tournament he attended was in Beaumont, Alta. The brothers didn’t meet in sparring, but he won gold and his twin won bronze, so they were happy with the results.
Battlefords Karate-Do generally has 50 to 60 members, says Grant.
“We start out with 75, by Christmas it’s down to 50 to 60. They come and find out there’s a lot of hard work. You don’t become a ninja overnight,” he laughs.
He credits sensei Elmer Woytiuk with the success of the group.
“He’s been training over 40 years now and, locally, has been in charge of karate for over 25 years.”
Grant says Woytiuk is a fifth degree black belt and also has a brown belt in judo.
Woytiuk seldom misses a class, he says.
“I’m second in command I very rarely have to take over, because he has to be either deathly ill or called away on something vitally important before he’ll ever miss a class. I can count on one hand the classes he’s missed in the last few years.”
In 2008, Battlefords Karate-Do travelled to Japan to compete. There he received a souvenir that meant he couldn’t give blood for six months, but it was a special occasion.
“If you have a tattoo, it’s six months wait before you can donate to make sure there’s no complications,” says Grant. “I had one done way back in 1970 and I couldn’t donate for a year after that one.”
When he went to Japan, he had a tattoo artist do a cover-up of the old one on his right arm.
“It was getting faded and had harsh lines.”
It was done in the traditional tabori method.
“He does the outline with the electric pen like you see on the shows. The rest of it is done with a stick. He dips it in the ink.”
Grant didn’t find it painful.
“It was actually better than the pen, I thought.”
It took about three hours and having it done in the traditional tabori way was important to Grant.
“He’s kneeling on the floor and you’re laying on a rice tatami mat on the floor and he’s doing this poking you with a stick. It’s my souvenir from the one trip to Japan.”
While he had to forgo a couple of blood clinics when he came home, he continues to give when he can and he encourages everyone to consider giving blood.
Half of all Canadians will either need blood or know someone who will need blood at some point in their lives. Yet only four per cent of Canadians donate.
“That’s their motto, ‘It’s in everybody to give, and everybody should try it at least once,” says Grant. “If you’ve tried and you’ve had a bad experience, go back and try the new systems, express your concerns, say to them this is what I am worried about, they’ll certainly help you through it.”
And when it’s over, you’ll feel better, just like Barry Grant.