After taking a machine gun bullet to the leg on April 9, 1945, in Erbach, Germany, Kennedy Smartt was soon thereafter touched by the kindness of strangers.
The recipient of a transfusion on the same day, Smartt felt gratitude for whoever’s blood was now coursing through his veins, and he made a vow then and there to help others.
Most recently, Smartt — now 90 years old and living in Gainesville — has been chairperson of the blood drive at Chestnut Mountain Presbyterian for the past 12 years. And, he’s breaking records left and right.
“(Smartt) is awesome,” said Daniel Sullins, donor recruiter with LifeSouth Community Blood Centers. “He’s honestly one of the best chairpeople we have in this organization.”
On Wednesday, the church’s 5,000th blood donor — Jamie Pearce of Jackson County — walked through the doors and received a gift certificate and an award.
Sullins said that due in part to Smartt’s efforts, Chestnut Mountain Presbyterian is the third highest grossing church in blood donations across the region, including Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
The trick, Smartt said, is scheduling.
“You don’t want them to pile up here at the same time,” Smartt said. “People don’t want to have to wait, so I schedule them ahead of time, so it doesn’t back up.”
Added Smartt: “Yesterday, I was on the telephone from 1 to 8 p.m. looking for blood donors. I called everybody I had ever written down as a potential donor.”
When he first started doing this 12 years ago, Smartt had 19 people give blood during the drive. These days, the drive brings in 70 to 80 donors over two consecutive Wednesday afternoons.
The church hosts blood drives with LifeSouth Community Blood Centers every nine weeks. Another drive will take place on Jan. 20 and 27, at the church (located at 4675 Winder Highway, Chestnut Mountain)
At 90, Smartt is still a regular donor, and he knows his O-negative blood makes him a universal donor who can help anyone in an emergency.
“Every blood donation has the opportunity to save three lives,” he said. “With the use of red blood, plasma and the platelets. And, seventy percent of the blood we receive here will be used at local hospitals.”
On that fateful day serving his country in Erbach, Germany 70 years ago, Smartt benefited from the generosity of others who chose to donate.
“I always assumed that saved my life,” he said. “I will always be grateful.”