There are many reasons people decide to give blood for the first time — they have a personal connection, feel a sense of community spirit, or see an inspiring ad. For Dennis Koebel, a slightly less altruistic reason prompted him to roll up his sleeve.

“When I was 16 years old in high school in Kitchener, I started donating blood to get out of class,” Dennis recalls with a smile.

While Dennis continued donating sporadically over the years, a cancer diagnosis in his family encouraged him to make a lifelong commitment to the cause.

“I became hooked when my mom developed ovarian cancer and needed transfusions,” he says. “It was an impetus to continue what I was doing and spread the word to others as well.”

The retired elementary school principal began donating frequently and set about raising awareness of the need for blood throughout his personal and professional networks.

He arranged for a mobile blood donor clinic to be held at his former school. He invited parents and neighbours to donate blood while students learned about the process from a Canadian Blood Services representative.

“Some kids came down to see their parents giving blood,” he notes. “It was an opportunity to plant a seed with them.”

And as Dennis approached his 100th donation milestone, he rallied his friends and colleagues to help him double his achievement.

“I thought if I could get another 50 people to come out and give with me — and each of them gave twice — that’s how I’d reach 200 donations,” Dennis says. “It was an overwhelming success.”

Today, Dennis donates faithfully every 56 days. To mark the occasion, he joins a group of eight to 10 men, called the “Blood Brothers,” for breakfast before donating together. Having built such strong relationships with fellow donors and clinic staff members, Dennis avoids missing appointments at all costs.

As his longtime friend, Richard Leasa, notes: “There are certain countries that, if you travelled there, would result in you not being able to donate for one year. Well, Dennis won’t go there because he won’t give up donating blood for that length of time!”

Dennis’s passion for blood donation earned him a seat on Canadian Blood Services’ Regional Liaison Committee for South-Central Ontario, and later, the National Liaison Committee, where he gives to the blood system in another way. As a donor representative, Dennis offers ideas and opinions on issues affecting the blood system.

“It’s really opened my eyes to how critical the blood supply is to so many user groups. Safety of products is number one and I take great pride in the fact that we have one of the safest blood systems in the world.”

Photography by Lorella Zanetti