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In the Spotlight: Judy Goodwell

OIG research specialist’s blood donations top 100, nearly 13 gallons given

Paulette Calhoun standing in front of freestanding weight bench
Judy Goodwell plays a public service announcement on her computer that she recorded for the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center last November. The 15-second spot began airing on Houston-area TV stations in January.

Photo by David Nunnelee

Judy Goodwell can’t stand the sight of blood. She’s not crazy about needles, either. That’s what is so ironic about the fact that Goodwell has nevertheless donated nearly 13 gallons of blood and blood products over the past 20 years. She just grins and bears it. Well, sort of.

“What I do is when they get ready to stick me, I look away,” said Goodwell, a research specialist with TDCJ’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). “As long as I look away, I’m good.”

In February, Goodwell gave blood for the 100th time since the day in April 1989 when she and a co-worker donated during a drive at the TDCJ administration building in Huntsville.

“We just decided to go see what it was all about,” Goodwell said. “We tried it and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Goodwell has given blood or blood platelets so often over the years – eight times in 2008 alone – that in November of last year the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center of Houston asked her to appear in a television commercial to raise public awareness about its “Commit for Life” blood donation program. The 15-second promotional clip started running on Houston television stations in January, and Goodwell’s phone started ringing almost immediately. People who recognize her from the public service announcement have even stopped her on the street.

“The commercial has definitely gotten people’s attention,” she said. “I’ve had friends from all over call and say, ‘Gosh, I saw you on the commercial. It makes me want to go out and give blood.’ I say, ‘Well, that was the whole purpose behind it.’”

The TV commercial was actually the second time Goodwell has been featured by the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in a public awareness campaign. In July 2008, she was asked to do a photo shoot so her picture and donation history could be displayed as wall art in donation centers and included in the organization’s brochures.

“It’s been an honor and a lot of fun,” said Goodwell, adding that she prefers anonymity to celebrity.

Goodwell joined the Commit for Life program in 2003 after having made nearly 50 donations of whole blood. The following year, a technician told her that she could actually help more people by giving blood platelets, which can be used to treat cancer patients. She was eager to do so because they can be donated more frequently and her own mother was then battling cancer, a fight she would lose two years later.

“It hit close to home,” said Goodwell, who has donated platelets almost exclusively since 2004.

In 2005, not long before her older sister, a registered nurse, began showing symptoms of leukemia, Goodwell registered with the National Marrow Donor Program. She has yet to donate, but as an African American, she helps diversify the marrow donor pool.

“They said they didn’t have enough African-Americans who were participating,” Goodwell said. “Only 30 percent of patients have a suitable matched donor in their family. The next best chance of finding a match is between people who share a racial or ethnic background.”

Another ironic aspect of Goodwell’s dislike of needles and the sight of blood is that she once wanted to volunteer as a candy striper and later to work as a registered nurse like her older sister.

“I wanted to go into the nursing field, but, honestly, I don’t have the stomach for that,” she said.

Instead, Goodwell went to work for TDCJ. She now has 25 years with the agency, 23 years with the OIG. As a research specialist for the OIG Fuginet program, she searches for parole violators who have a history of auto theft and provides information about them to law enforcement agencies. She also works at public awareness events designed to prevent auto theft.

Donors like Goodwell are told that for every pint of blood they give, three lives might be saved. That would make her a lifesaver many times over. Yet Goodwell has never met a patient whose life may have been saved through her donations. Still mourning the passing of her mother, she doesn’t think she could.

“I’m not a very strong person when it comes to that,” she said. “If someone is hurting or crying, I’m right there with them, I feel their pain. That’s still kind of hard for me now. Emotionally, I think it would be too much.”

But in remembrance of her mother, Goodwell said she will continue to donate the gift of life as long as she is able.

“It’s something I strongly believe in,” she said. “It only takes a couple hours of my time and there’s the possibility of helping to save someone’s life. We all want our loved ones with us for as long as we possibly can have them, so if my donations allow someone to be with his or her family a little longer, that makes me feel good. That does.”

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