Rhode Island Blood Center (RIBC) is lucky to have a group of loyal donors who play an instrumental role in maintaining a stable and diverse blood supply. One of those amazing donors is Bishop Hendricken High School teacher Leera Kpea. Leera has been donating for the past twenty years, but his story of how he became a blood donor is unique. Now he is hoping this story will inspire his students and others to join him in saving lives.

Leera was encouraged to donate through an unexpected connection. On a winter evening during his freshman year at Salve Regina University, Leera was walking back to his dorm room from a friend’s house. Unknowingly, he dropped his phone in the snow and only realized what had happened when he returned to his dorm.

“It was one of those Nextel phones from back in the day, and I had just gotten it too, so I was freaking out.”

A day later and to his surprise, Leera received a message from a gentleman who said he found his phone in the snow and would like to return it. Leera was extremely grateful for the stranger’s generosity, and they arranged a time and place to meet.

Reflecting back, Leera describes himself as a typical college student at the time with limited funds.

“I only had maybe $50 to my name. I took out the $50 and was planning to give it to this guy for finding my phone.”

Upon meeting the man, Leera vividly recalls his powerful stature. “He was an older African American gentleman, white beard, white hair” he says.

Leera profusely thanked the man for his kindness and offered him the $50 as a form of repayment. The stranger insisted that Leera keep the money, but said there was something he could do for him – and that was to donate blood.

Leera tells RIBC he was a bit taken back and asked the meaning behind the unique request. The man explained that his daughter had successfully recovered from Leukemia, and blood donations played an instrumental role in her treatment and recovery. To pay it forward, the man started donating blood regularly and now asks others to do the same.

Inspired by his story, Leera happily agreed to the stranger’s request and has been donating whole blood, platelets, plasma, and even bone marrow, ever since. When asked why he continues after 20 years, Leera tells RIBC it’s simple.

“Just knowing that it’s helping. Knowing my one donation can help up to three people is an amazing feeling. Keep paying it forward is my purpose for doing this.”

As to whether or not he has maintained contact with the man since, Leera tells RIBC that stranger is continuing his influence in a symbolic way.  “I only met him that one time” he says.

Leera, who is affectionately known by his students as K-P, is an active member of the Bishop Hendricken community. In addition to coaching several sports teams and leading two after school clubs, Leera has also taken on the role of blood drive coordinator.

“That’s why I’m here, to help. As a teacher, the gratitude of our students, faculty, and community are a large part of why we do this. Whatever I can do to help this community, I’m going to do it.”

Leera has donated over 4 gallons with RIBC and tells us he will continue to help in our lifesaving mission.

If you’re inspired by Leera’s story and would like to pay it forward, schedule your appointment to donate today. Together, we can ensure our community has a stable blood supply for our friends, family, or maybe even a kind stranger in need.