A simple yes to a one-time good deed transformed into a lifelong ministry for Sister Damien Hinderer, OSF. As a novice in the early 1960s, Sister Damien was asked to give blood to help another sister with a bleeding ulcer. Now 77, Sister Damien has donated more than 82 gallons of blood in her lifetime to become one of the leading donors in the history of Cincinnati’s Hoxworth Blood Center.
And she’ll continue making the two-hour round trip from her home in Oldenburg, Indiana, every two months for as long as there are people who need blood. “I look at what Francis did,” Sister Damien explains. “When they didn’t have food to feed the friars, they fed the poor. I have something somebody needs; I feel like I should share it. Even if I don’t know who it’s for, it’s for someone who needs blood.”
Sister Damien can recall the time many years ago when her father was ill and needed blood while hospitalized. What would have happened, she wonders, if there hadn’t been enough donors? That’s the question she wishes more people would ask when considering whether to donate blood. She also wants to make clear that blood donation is nothing to be feared.
While she donates, she’s able to read a book and relax, and the donation center generally provides a drink or snack afterward. The technicians watch new donors closely to make sure they’re doing well, and they’ve even offered to arrange rides home if a donor is unable to drive. “They make it as easy as they possibly can,” Sister Damien says.
Sister Damien doesn’t love the attention she’s received in the past year since she passed the 80-gallon mark—her milestone was met with a celebration and local media coverage—but she’s willing to be in the spotlight if it helps raise awareness of the need for more blood donors.
“Blood is what we live with. We have to have it,” she says. “We don’t have artificial blood. Blood has to come from another human being, and it has to be someone who’s willing to get stuck by that needle and sit in that chair. What greater gift can you give somebody? It’s life!”
Over the years, Sister Damien has inspired family members, friends, and other sisters to become donors. She herself has been inspired by Francis as well as by her parents. Her parents, she says, were unfailingly generous, and her dad had a penchant for bringing home stray and injured animals. One of six children, Sister Damien says a spirit of giving was ingrained in her upbringing and has simply carried on throughout her adult life.
“You give,” she says. “If you’ve got something someone else needs, you give. As a Franciscan, I don’t feel like I own anything. It belongs to me to use, but anybody can have what they need. That’s how I feel about my blood too. That’s just the way we were raised.”
Sister Damien also was profoundly influenced by a book she read about Father Damien during a high school retreat. Father Damien, a Belgian priest, was canonized in 1995 for his work caring for a leper colony in Hawaii—which ultimately cost him his life.
Sister Damien, given the name Judith at birth, took her hero’s name when she joined her order. “I so admired Father Damien for what he did,” she says. “He took care of these people whose skin was falling off. If he can do that, the least I can do is give people something they need.”