In 1996, Mark Buciak was devastated when his father died right before the holidays. “He was my biggest supporter. I knew I could let this be the lowest point in my life.” But Mark didn’t do that.
During his life, Mark’s father had instilled in him the importance of giving back, helping those in need and sharing one’s gifts. “My father was a regular blood donor because he knew blood was the gift of life.”
As an elite distance runner, Mark ran regularly to clear his head. On December 31, during his last run of the year, Mark decided to start the New Year right and do something to keep his father’s spirit alive. Soon after, Mark established the John Buciak Memorial Blood Drive to honor his father’s memory.
The blood drive is held annually at Old St. Pat’s Church and has become one of the largest in Chicago, collecting more than 1,500 units of blood since its inception 20 years ago. Each year, Mark and his family make the blood drive a celebration of life. Mark’s seven-year-old daughters dress as blood drops, participants enjoy raffles, therapy dogs are there to calm nerves and masseuses even provide pre-donation relaxation.
As an elite runner who has completed more than 60 marathons, Mark understands the importance of a healthy lifestyle. In 2004, after more than 30 years of distance running, Mark was told he had a congenital heart defect. Two years later, doctors told him he needed heart surgery to save his life. As he headed to surgery, Mark reflected on the, now very personal, value of the blood he had been collecting.
After surgery, Mark began the slow climb back to health. Having run 26 consecutive Boston Marathons, Mark was determined not to let his heart surgery deter him from his 27th. Despite doctors’ recommendations, 11 weeks post-surgery, Mark flew to Boston. He finished the marathon as they were shutting down the course. “It was not my personal fastest, but it was my personal best,” he said.
In 2013, Mark and his wife Barrie were running the Boston marathon when two homemade bombs killed three people and injured more than 260. Barrie had just crossed the finish line and Mark had a quarter of a mile to go when the race was stopped. Mark said being in the thick of that tragedy reaffirmed his commitment to the gift
“It was more than a marathon, it was a race of good versus evil,” he said. “And how could good win the race?” Upon arriving back home, Mark and Barrie both donated blood. “Technology can keep people alive and cure many diseases, but it cannot manufacture blood. There is only one source and that is you.”
The Blood Services Award is presented to an individual(s) or organization that is involved in activity that creates awareness of the importance of blood donation, helps to ensure a sufficient and safe blood supply is available to patients, and/or serves as an advocate for the blood community
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