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Massapequa man top blood donor in state

Al Fischer, 83, of Massapequa donates his 333rd

Al Fischer, 83, of Massapequa donates his 333rd pint of blood at the Long Island Blood Center in Melville. (Oct. 19, 2011) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

For 60 years Al Fischer has donated blood more often than most people change their car's oil.

He's given a pint every two months since 1951, without fail.

At the age of 83, the print shop worker showed no signs of slowing down Wednesday as he rolled up his sleeve at a Melville blood center, offering a technician his right arm.

"I don't even feel it, really," Fischer said as the needle pierced his skin.

The latest donation -- his 333rd pint -- helped secure the Massapequa man's rank as the top donor in New York, and possibly the nation.

With only 2 percent of the public giving blood annually, Fischer has gone above and beyond to help maintain the metropolitan area's ever-fluctuating supply, said Harvey Schaffler, a director at the New York Blood Center. It's estimated Fischer's blood -- O positive, which can be given to 85 percent of the patient population -- has been used in a thousand transfusions.

"If this gentleman can still donate six times a year, why can't you donate twice a year?" said Schaffler, who first met Fischer at a Manhattan blood drive about 25 years ago.

Fischer has received thank-you notes and accolades for his efforts over the years, including an audience with the late Cardinal John O'Connor and a congressional citation.

But Fischer never set out to earn kudos or break records. In 1951 he was a young man living in South Carolina. He spotted a sign advertising a blood drive at a Baptist church.

He casually walked in, gave his first pint -- collected in a milk bottle -- and "felt great about it."

Eight weeks later, the church held another drive, so Fischer returned. From then on, it became a routine -- and a passion.

"I feel like I've been strengthened by doing this," he said Wednesday.

While official records aren't maintained, the country's acknowledged blood donation leader has been Maurice Wood, 85, of St. Louis. Fischer has had a friendly rivalry with Wood for years, and in 2009 was just six pints behind.

Fischer, who still works full-time, has chronic back pain but is otherwise healthy.

To prove he's still fit enough to donate, he brings a note from his physician. The permission slip is required for donors 76 and older, Schaffler said.

Twice over the years, Fischer's hemoglobin levels were too low to donate blood. Both times, he wouldn't be denied. He went home, ate helpings of red meat and leafy greens and returned to the blood center a few days later -- passing muster both times.

A low point came in 1992, when his wife, Myrna, needed a transfusion after surgery.

He wanted to give his blood to her, but doctors wouldn't allow it -- he'd donated just a week earlier.

"I felt bad about that," he said.

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