TIFTON - For Dr. Neil Widstrom, giving 146 units of blood to the American Red Cross over 30 years was "just what everybody else does," a civic responsibility he feels is nothing special.

The Red Cross officials who honored Widstrom Thursday for giving the most units in the local ARC's history don't agree.

"When you multiply those 146 units by the three different components in blood that can be used, he's saved 438 lives," said Theresa Guess of the Red Cross' Southern Region Blood Services.

"It's been a tremendous effort over many years."

Widstrom, a corn geneticist who retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service on Thursday, first gave blood as a college student.

"I had kind of a negative experience, so I didn't give again until after I went in the service and was out of it again," said Widstrom. "After I was discharged, I found out my blood had been mistyped and the wrong blood type entered on my dogtags.

"If I'd been injured, they would have given me A positive blood, and I'm an A negative person. After all that, I thought, well, I'd make sure which type I had, and I started giving."

Widstrom said a mistaken blood transfusion given to his sister in another state played a part in the death of her second child, giving him another reason to be concerned about blood types and supply.

A native of South Dakota, Widstrom moved to Tifton in 1964 and started giving blood at the National Guard Armory. Over the years, he continued giving as the community blood drive location moved first to First Baptist Church and then to First United Methodist, getting to know the people who run the unit fairly well.

An upcoming trip to China for corn research will keep Widstrom from giving blood for a while, but he said he expects to continue on "if I'm here and I don't get sick."

"I feel a little bit guilty about this," Widstrom said as he accepted a plaque from Guess. "I don't think anybody should be placed on a pedestal for doing their civic duty."

To contact city editor Florence Rankin, call 382-4321, ext. 209.

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