Partners for Life

When you meet Neil Bernstein, the first thing you will notice is his authoritative voice, long dark hair and large stature. So, while you might not be surprised to learn he is a rock musician and a former bouncer you may be amazed to learn he was responsible for 500 blood donations in eight months last year.

Neil’s motivation to donate came from his father, Frank Bernstein, who began donating blood at age 17. Frank was committed from the start. Every six days, he would visit the Oak Street blood donor clinic in Vancouver to donate plasma. Eventually, he became a platelet donor, stopping at the clinic at the same time every other Wednesday.

Yet before the start of this year — and despite his father’s exceptional dedication to donating blood — Neil had never rolled up his sleeve to give blood. He became inspired to pick up the gauntlet following his father’s death.

Frank passed away in July 2011 at age 72 of complications from cancer, but the 532 donations he made over his lifetime earned him the provincial record for an individual donor and left a legacy of giving in B.C. In September, Canadian Blood Services posthumously recognized Frank with a Lifetime Achievement Award at its national Honouring our Lifeblood event where Frank’s wife Caron and their daughter accepted the award on his behalf.

A few months later, Neil decided to pick up where his father left off. “I wanted to carry on my father’s tradition of giving blood and follow in his footsteps,” Neil says. “He was a giving guy who cared about his community and about people in general. I think it rubbed off on me.”

In February of last year, Neil formed a Partners for Life group in his father’s name, made his first blood donation, and committed to breaking Frank’s record.

Marlene Morris, a Partnership Specialist with Canadian Blood Services, knew Frank and has remained in contact with the Bernstein family. Initially, in an attempt to manage Neil’s expectations, she persuaded him to agree to an annual pledge of 50 donations from his group.

“Fifty pledges is already a huge commitment; more than most of our partners,” Marlene says, as she reminisced about what she had initially perceived as Neil’s naiveté. By the end of August, however, Neil’s Partners for Life group had already achieved 500 donations. After eight months, the group had become the third largest in the region — an achievement unheard of for a group that is not a corporation, business, nor a faith-based organization.

“It often takes a large Partners for Life group several years to get up near those figures,” says Marlene. “It’s nothing short of incredible how quickly Neil’s group broke the record of B.C.’s top lifetime donor, who was none other than his father, Frank.”

Not only did Neil far exceed the pledge of 50 units he was advised to accept, but he became an unexpected ambassador for blood. Using his Facebook profile and YouTube channel, he single-handedly recruited 181 people to register with his group and brought in 15 first-time donors. Incredibly, by the end of 2012, Neil’s Partners for Life group had achieved 641 donations.

“This is my opportunity to say, ‘I told you so,’” jokes Neil without a hint of resentment when he learned about the tally.

At the time of printing, plans were underway to kick things off with a second in-honour campaign, roughly around the same time of year Frank reached 500 donations in 2009.

“My goal now is to double my father’s donation level,” Neil says. “We have a lot of people behind us.”

This year, rather than trying to contain Neil’s enthusiasm, we’ll be celebrating what he’s already accomplished, supporting him as he goes even further and applauding this new, larger-than-life hero in our midst.


Loss Inspires New Legacy (YouTube video)