By this time of year, most New England Patriots football fans are familiar with head coach Bill Belichick’s style of avoiding all talk of championships to focus solely on his team’s next opponent. The same words could ring true for Patriots fan Lou Dittami – who recently passed his 600th bi-weekly platelet donation at the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“I’m not worried about passing 600, only about the donation I have coming up,” says Dittami in true Belichick fashion. “That’s the one that could save a patient.”
Given his devotion to both his favorite team and to helping patients with cancer and blood disorders, it is only fitting that Dittami was honored this fall as the “Patriots Difference Maker of the Week” by the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation. In addition to being recognized on the field during the Patriots’ last regular-season game at Gillette Stadium, Dittami received an honorary medal and autographed football from Patriots defensive end Jake Bequette during an earlier ceremony at the Kraft Center.
After shaking Blount’s hand and saying thanks, Dittami did what came naturally: he made another donation.
He knows that his donating platelets every two weeks is a gesture that instantly makes an impact. Platelets are the life-saving clotting agents of the blood, but are killed off along with cancer cells during chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Individuals fighting cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, organ transplant recipients, and those who suffer blood loss during surgery all must have their platelets replenished.
Platelets only have a five-day shelf life, however, so the need for them is constant. After passing an initial screening, donors can give once every seven days or up to 24 times in a 12-month period.
“I bring in scones when I come to donate, and the other day a lady came up to me and thanked me,” Dittami explains. “She told me her husband was next door getting treatment. That reminded me you can never forget what is important. I’m no big shot; I go in for a couple hours every other week, but these families go through this 24-7.”
Dittami was a high school science teacher back in 1983 when his assistant principal told him about a student who was at Dana-Farber and in need of a platelet donation. Moved to act, Dittami went to the Kraft Center and made his first donation.
Dittami kept going back. Soon he was a member of Team 20 – those donors who give at least 20 times in a year. The 90-minute donation process became a much-beloved habit.
Now, as the Patriots pursue another Super Bowl, Dittami will be watching – one game (and donation) at a time.
“Lou is an example of how many learn about platelet donation; because they knew someone who needed them,” explains Malissa Lichtenwalter, MBA, supervisor of donor recruitment at the Kraft Center. “He’s also an example of why so many who start donating keep donating; they don’t know who needs them, they just know someone does.”