Blood of neighbors, co-workers save life of longtime islander
Robert “Red” Moorehead has lived in Jamestown for 55 of his 71 years. Although he grew up on the west side of the Jamestown Bridge, he has played a large part in the history of this island, working as a deckhand on the Jamestown to Newport Ferry for the 10 years before the Newport Pell Bridge opened.
Once the bridge was in place, Moorehead moved on to a job as a toll collector, where he became a supervisor. Next he worked on bridge maintenance and ultimately became chief of maintenance. All told, Moorehead has been with the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority for more than 40 years.
Moorehead and his family have been a part of the fabric of Conanicut Island for a long time. “My wife was born and brought up on the island,” he said. “Her whole family was. Her mother was born on the island. They never left.”
Moorehead himself was never far away, growing up just five miles away in North Kingstown before moving to Jamestown.
In recent years, Moorehead has suffered a series of heart attacks. “I had the first one in 2002 and the next two in the last few months,” he said. The most recent heart attack put him in the intensive care unit of South County Hospital for 28 days. While the was there, he received seven pints of blood. The man who had helped people get from Jamestown to Newport and back for 50 years needed help himself.
Fortunately, Moorehead’s friends and co-workers from the RITBA came to his rescue. The Rhode Island Blood Center, led by Frank Prosnitz, organized a blood drive, which was held at the Portuguese American Citizens Pub on July 18.
“We were talking about doing a blood drive at the RITBA, and they told us about Red,” Prosnitz said. “We thought that was an important story to tell and would help motivate some people to donate. Often when we tell these stories they’re also really good for the families because they get to see how much people care, and it’s a great emotional uplift.”
Moorehead was overwhelmed: “I want to thank all of my friends and family and all of my co-workers at the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority for donating to the blood drive.”
Moorehead vividly remembers his days on the ferry prior to the bridge being built. “They used to have just [Route] 138. It was the only road on and off the island. It was a two-lane bridge. We used to have cars backed all the way up to the golf course waiting to get on the ferry. The two ferries only carried 80 cars each. On the weekends it was so crowded that they used to have shuttle buses to bring people to the island.”
There are certain unpleasant aspects that come with his job on the bridge, but Moorehead is stoic about them. “We’ve had a few jumpers, but that’s part of the job,” he said.
Moorehead is on leave while he is recovering, but he expects to return to work in September. “They don’t want me to do anything right now. They want me to get better, get back on my feet, then I can go back to work. I’m still working. As soon as I get better I’ll be working again.”
The long-time RITBA employee feels that he returned to work too early after his first heart attack and he doesn’t want to repeat that mistake again. “I survived all three of them and I don’t want to push for a fourth,” Moorehead said. “I don’t want to push it. Slow and easy. When I feel comfortable I’ll go back to work.”
Moorehead looks forward to getting back to work on the bridge and he stays in touch in the meantime. “I talk with the guys all the time,” he said. “They stop by and say ‘hi’ to me. I call them on the phone.”
According to Prosnitz, “We collected over 70 pints, which was above our goal. When somebody donates whole blood, you have the chance to save three lives. We take three different products, platelets, plasma and red cells. So literally that blood drive will impact over 200 people, and their families, and their friends, and their co-workers.”
The Rhode Island Blood Center was established in 1979 as a nonprofi t community blood center. The blood center is the only source of blood for the hospitals of Rhode Island, while also serving customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The center must collect 240 to 280 pints of blood daily to meet the needs of its community, relying on the generosity of volunteer blood donors.
Employing more than 350 individuals in a variety of positions, the center also works with some 180 volunteers, and operates five fixed donor centers throughout Rhode Island. Working with a variety of sponsors, the blood center also runs more than 3,000 mobile blood drives annually.