Harry McGovern wants to “pay it back” with an upcoming blood donation drive on Mercer Island.
The 15-year-old local, who is currently immersed in his sophomore year at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, said he is experiencing great health — physically, mentally and emotionally — after being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in April of 2020.
“I had more than my fair share of blood transfusions during chemotherapy,” McGovern said about the impetus for planning the drive from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation, 3700 East Mercer Way.
McGovern’s 501c3, The First Night Project (TFNP), is leading the charge with the drive and has teamed up with Bloodworks Northwest, Mercer Island Young Men’s Service Organization, National League of Young Men, Stroum Jewish Community Center and Herzl-Ner Tamid to bring the event to fruition at month’s end.
TFNP came to light after McGovern went on a Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington shopping trip at Macy’s in Bellevue in October of 2020 to gather items that were featured in comfort kits/gift bags. He delivered them to young patients in the oncology ward and the nursing staff at Seattle Children’s Hospital where he was treated.
The McGoverns’ family friend Les Baron recently joined the project as its development director and has spearheaded the effort, according to Ann McGovern, Harry’s mother.
“In learning about where things are at and talking to the Red Cross and Bloodworks, the pandemic is pretty much not going away. It’s pretty much hit everybody and that includes the blood banks, so their resources are more limited. The need for blood locally as well as across the country has increased also,” said Baron, who has three children and noted that Harry’s case resonated with him.
Baron is pleased to be involved with the project and the blood drive, especially since the Island community has the potential to unite for a worthy cause during the tough times of the pandemic.
Harry echoed those sentiments and praised Baron for his tireless effort to help make the event a reality: “I’ve always valued the Mercer Island community for the environment of compassion that it fosters. When aid is needed in any form, large or small, there has always been an immense Island presence of those willing to do something greater than themselves.”
Further bringing the community support that Harry spotlighted to the forefront, Ann said she’s heard from several Island residents with loved ones who have received blood, and those locals have stepped up by registering for the TFNP’s drive.
Jessi Wasson, Family Programs manager at the Stroum Jewish Community Center, discussed her organization’s involvement with the drive.
“Community is at the heart of everything we do at the SJCC and that includes helping our neighbors whenever we can,” she said. “Our Mitzvah Corps volunteer group is extremely active and dedicated to improving lives, and participating in the blood drive is just one example of the positive impact we hope to have in the community.”
Over at Herzl-Ner Tamid, Ellen Yusim’s name stands at the forefront each time the congregation holds a blood drive, according to a previous Reporter story. More than two decades ago, the courageous 16-year-old congregant died of cancer and wished that the synagogue would hold blood drives in her name henceforth. She was concerned for the community’s blood supply after she received a copious amount of blood through transfusions.
Herzl-Ner Tamid Rabbi Jacob Herber added: “The Rabbinic Sages of the Talmud teach that to save one life is tantamount to saving the entire world. By providing things like COVID vaccination clinics and pop-up blood drives, our congregation provides a critically valuable service to the community and, at the same time, we fulfill these two very core Jewish values.”
Bloodworks Northwest, which is the primary blood supplier to 95% of Western Washington hospitals, is currently experiencing a code red alert, according to Rochelle Toro, community engagement liaison for Bloodworks Northwest.
“Close to 90% of our blood supply has less than a day left on the shelf. I have done this work on two different coasts for close to eight years and never seen it this bad,” Toro said. “The impact we hope to gain is awareness for the need for blood while letting Mercer Island know about how childhood cancer impacts us all.”