His first blood donation was in 1950. He’s now at 270, and counting

Elmer Cantelo still donates blood regularly at age 87, and clearly recalls the frightening episode that got him started

July 30, 2021
An 87-year-old man who is donating blood holds a sign that says “270 donations. My reason? Save lives.”

Elmer Cantelo was just a teenager when he donated blood for the first time. Now 87 years young, he recently completed his 270th donation of whole blood.

To match this remarkable accomplishment, a person beginning today would have to donate at every available opportunity for more than 40 years. While donation numbers can climb more quickly for donors of plasma or platelets, whole blood donation appointments must be spaced at least 56 days apart for men and 84 days for women, to protect the health of the donor.

“I think it’s important to give back and I’m proud to be able to do it,” says Elmer.

Learn more about blood donation eligibility 

An 87-year-old man in a striped shirt holds a frame filled with mementoes of his blood donations.

Elmer Cantelo has acquired many mementoes over the years in recognition of his commitment to blood donation. He recently completed his 270th donation of whole blood.

Elmer attributes his exceptional altruism to a farming accident in Prince Edward Island, where he was born and raised. At the age of 15, he was driving a tractor when it struck a root and tipped over, pinning him underneath. He remained trapped for 20 hours before he was discovered and rushed to hospital. There, a doctor noticed that one of his legs was discoloured due to lack of blood flow and advised amputation. Upon hearing this, the farmers who had brought Elmer to hospital quickly began to massage the leg, stimulating blood flow and changing the doctor’s mind.

“I’ve never forgotten what they did for me,” says Elmer simply. “It remains as fresh in my mind today as it did decades ago. I’ve always believed that people should help one another whenever they can.”

This spirit of generosity also inspired Elmer to volunteer for a long list of causes and charities. For many years, he served as a church usher and volunteered at the Canadian Blood Services donor centre in Hamilton, Ont. He and Illah, his wife of 45 years, volunteered for Meals on Wheels delivering prepared food to people in need, although Elmer is quick to point out: “My wife did it for much longer than I did.”

How do I donate blood?

After his move from P.E.I. to Hamilton in 1950, Elmer landed a job with Consolidated Bathurst, a company that manufactured corrugated cardboard until it closed for good in 1983. For the next 26 years, he drove school buses before finally retiring at the age of 80.

Elmer has saved every one of the many commemorative pins, certificates and photographs he’s received over the years in recognition of his commitment to blood donation. He’s attended several donor-appreciation events and recognizes that because he has O-negative blood — the only type compatible with all other blood types — his donations are particularly important.

Learn more about blood type

“I’m going to keep on donating until someone tells me I can’t do it anymore,” says Elmer.

The need for blood is constant, and there are many donation appointments available at donor centres across Canada. To book your own appointment to donate blood, visit blood.ca/donate, download the GiveBlood app or call 1 888 2 DONATE. Enhanced safety measures are in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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