[Today's Why Wednesday post is very special to me for several reasons:
- First, I'm a big fan of the woman who wrote it. She used to work at Hotchkiss and always brought cheerful kindness to every task and interaction. She helped me get Conventions of Composition online, for which I'll be forever grateful.
- Second, she writes about an important way that people can provide a necessary service for others.
- Third, I went to college with Charles Drew's grandson and have been a big fan of blood banks in theory since I learned about them from him.
- Fourth, I became a bigger fan of blood banks and blood donations when, five years ago this week, a rare form of tumor (GIST) broke through my esophagus and stomach causing me to lose almost half of my blood volume. In the emergency room, clinicians gave me three units of blood right away, but had to call around to procure a fourth unit because they had run out of my type, O- (universal donor, but a tricky recipient). Fortunately, Sharon Hospital found a fourth pint of blood and obviously, I survived the surgery (Thank you, Dr. Cha, I am doing fine), but without the gift from all four of those donors, people I'll never know, I'd be dead.
You'll appreciate this great post as much as I do. Feel free to share your praise for Julie in the comments. Julie, thanks again for sharing your words.]
Why Give Blood, by Julie Vecchitto
I have been a blood donor since 1990, when my buddy at an HMO where we both worked said, “Hey, let’s give blood during our lunch hour. They’re having a drive at Allstate.” Thus I began a lifelong commitment to donating blood. As of early 2021, I have donated sixty-seven units, a little more than eight gallons.
When I moved to Harwinton, CT in 2002, I began donating in my new town. The two Lions Club members who staffed the registration table at blood drives always encouraged me to join the Lions. After retiring in 2017, I joined the Red Cross as a donor ambassador and became a member of the Harwinton Lions. I’m now the blood drive coordinator for our Lions Club and blood drives chair for Lions District 23B, comprising 55 clubs in Litchfield and Hartford counties. The focus of my work in the district is to inform and inspire clubs across the district to partner with the Red Cross and volunteer at blood drives.
Let’s think for a minute about why I focus my efforts on blood drives as a service activity, and why I volunteer for the Red Cross. In case you’re wondering why this is an important initiative, consider these facts:
- Approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the U.S.
- Nearly 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed daily in the U.S.
- Nearly 21 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S.
- Sickle cell disease affects 90,000 to 100,000 people in the U.S. and sickle cell patients can require blood transfusions throughout their lives. About 1000 babies are born with Sickle Cell disease every year.
- About 1.8 million people were diagnosed with cancer in 2020, and many of them need blood because of compromised bone marrow or chemotherapy treatment.
- While the average red blood cell transfusion is about three units, a single car accident victim can require as many as 100 units of blood.
Yet, only three percent of age-eligible people donate blood yearly. Every new donor helps the Red Cross meet patient needs. We can help increase this number and serve the people in our state by donating at a Red Cross blood drive and helping to ensure a stable blood supply.
I could write a book about the stories I’ve heard from blood donors in the last three and a half years, but first I’ll share my own — an experience I don’t remember at all because I was a newborn. I was born with jaundice because of a liver problem known as hyperbilirubinemia. According to the Boston Children’s Hospital website, jaundice appearing in the first day after birth can be quite dangerous, resulting in high levels of bilirubin in the liver. While I have no memory of the transfusions I required, I remember very well the plastic surgery I had on both arms where the needles left holes in my inner elbows. I ended up being a wiry, healthy kid, but my first few days -- in the early 1950s -- were a bit tough when I needed to have my damaged blood replaced to increase my red blood cells and lower the bilirubin levels.
Fast forward to the 21st century, here’s another story that illustrates the points I’ve just shared. I was at a blood drive in Burlington Town Hall, working at the canteen -- the place in the room where donors who have just given blood sit down to recover from their donation experiences. It was my job to give them drinks, offer snacks, and keep my eye on them for any sign of distress post-donation. A young woman sat down at the table, and I could see that she was sad. I asked her what had brought her to the blood drive, and she said, “I had to. My husband has cancer, and he’s not doing well. He’s receiving blood often. I had to pay back for what he’s been given.” Whenever I think of this young woman, and her young husband who was so ill, I could just cry. I never saw her again, and have no idea whether he recovered. That’s the thing about volunteering at a blood drive: you hear about people’s lives, but the Health Insurance Privacy and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that governs privacy in medical situations ensures that I remember very few names. Even so, it’s hard to forget the situations that bring people to a blood drive.
Like so many of us, I have a Facebook account and monitor what’s going on in the two towns that share our regional school district, where I read about a mom who sponsored a blood drive to celebrate her daughter’s first birthday. She suffered from complications during the birthing process and received twelve units of blood and other blood products. She wanted to share her experience to thank the Red Cross, so she hosted a blood drive. Her message on Facebook was compelling enough to inspire me to give at the drive. Subsequently, she and her family were honored for their efforts at NBC 30’s big January blood drive in 2019. Just like that young woman whose husband had cancer, for every person who’s helped by a blood donation, there’s a story.
In case you’ve never been to a Red Cross blood drive, here’s the process you will experience as a blood donor:
- You must have an appointment. Book one here or download the Red Cross app.
- Have your temperature taken, the first step before you’re even allowed to check in at the registration table. (There’s a cool new machine that takes a no-touch temperature and tells you if it’s normal.) The price of admission is a temperature reading under 99.5 degrees and a valid ID.
- Then you begin with registration, where you will confirm your appointment, provide proof of your identity, and acknowledge that you have completed RapidPass, the online tool that allows blood donors to complete reading materials and answer some initial questions about their health prior to arriving for their appointment at the blood drive.
- Next, you will sit down to wait for your health history and check-up with a Red Cross staff member, where your identity is confirmed again, temperature is taken again, blood pressure and pulse are checked, and a tiny sample of blood is collected to check for your hemoglobin level. Any one of these measures can disqualify a donor from giving blood that day.
- Once the health history has been completed, you will move to a stretcher, where your identity is checked again, and the donation begins. The actual donation generally takes from eight to ten minutes. Once it’s complete, you will move to the canteen, where you are observed for any signs of adverse effects, which are rare, and given water or juices and offered snacks, all provided by the Red Cross. Donors stay in the canteen for fifteen minutes.
There is a great deal of information about other reasons you might want to give blood available on the Red Cross website. But here are a few more examples of why I am inspired to give.