Roseburg Fire Department Assistant Chief Merrill Gonterman holds a photograph of his daughter Hannah Gonterman and her son Jennson Gonterman in Roseburg on Friday.

Roseburg Fire Department Assistant Chief Merrill Gonterman had no idea this would happen after organizing a blood drive for his daughter Hannah.

It was a way to give back after his daughter survived a prolonged illness that required more than three dozen blood transfusions.

Thanks to firefighters and other first responders, what began as one blood drive has expanded into more throughout Western Oregon, and if all goes as planned, will soon include Ridgefield, Washington.

The successful blood drives come as the American Red Cross is experiencing a serious shortage of blood.

Merrill Gonterman, who has been a professional emergency medical technician for 35 years, has been a regular donor, but when Hannah Gonterman and her baby were saved by blood donations last year, Merrill Gonterman knew he had to do more.

Hannah Gonterman was 26 weeks pregnant in February 2018 when Merrill Gonterman got a call saying it appeared his daughter had leukemia and blood transfusions had begun. Merrill Gonterman and his wife were told that it didn’t appear that Hannah Gonterman was going to survive. But she did, and after using 40 units of donated blood, and Merrill Gonterman’s first grandson was born healthy.

His daughter went through so much blood that it spurred Merrill Gonterman to act.

“When I came back the guys were all asking what they could do and what we needed, and my immediate response was give blood,” he said.

He organized the blood drive in 2018 with the help of the Red Cross. Almost immediately the Eugene-Springfield fire departments got on board.

This year he’s trying to get Eugene firefighters, as well as Grants Pass, Rogue River, Ashland and Jackson County Fire District No. 3 to participate.

“This year I wanted to do what I could to add some more cities, so North Bend just did one, Clackamas Fire Department, Bay Cities Ambulance also hosted one, South Lane Fire District in Cottage Grove is working on one as well,” Gonterman said. “We’re probably going to come close to 200 units of blood.”

Merrill Gonterman is appealing to firefighters, first responders and anybody else to save lives by signing up to give blood at one of the drives.

Red Cross officials say there is a severe blood shortage that northwest hospitals are experiencing for all blood types. Merrill Gonterman has organized several blood drives for fire departments in Oregon.

“It’s much bigger than when it originally started,” said Val Gordon, account manager for the donor recruitment department of the American Red Cross Blood Services in Roseburg. “And he wants to increase it every year.”

Eligible donors with Type O, A-negative and B-negative blood are urged to make a Power Red donation where available. That allows you to donate two units of red blood cells during one donation.

“The happy ending is that (our daughter) survived and our grandson’s a happy, healthy, loving little baby boy,” Merrill Gonterman said.

With the help of the Roseburg Fire Department, Gonterman will hold the Roseburg Firefighters Care Blood Drive from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 3, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 4, at the Red Cross Donor Center, 1176 NW Garden Valley Blvd., Roseburg.

Appointments may be scheduled using the free Red Cross Blood Donor App or by visiting redcrossblood.org. or by calling 1-800-733-2767.

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Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

(1) comment


In the caption is says the babies name is Jennson Gonterman, but I know the family and his name is Jennson Leak.

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