by Joyce A. Mitchell
LENEXA — You take it for granted, said Dave Miller, until someone close to you needs it desperately.
But his niece Lauren Dopp’s illness and death changed all that.
“I became acutely aware of how important blood is,” said Miller, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Louisburg. “Lauren needed blood products every six to 12 hours the last weeks of her life.”
The St. James Academy student had lived in Bucyrus with Dave and Desiree Miller, whom she called Mom and Dad, from the age of 14.
St. James’s first-ever blood drive was held last December as a memorial to the 17-year-old dance captain who had died of bone cancer the previous month. In preparing for the drive, Miller was surprised to learn how significant high-schoolers are to the blood supply of the nation.
Now he’s focused on encouraging this population to donate.
“They are what keeps the blood supply afloat,” explained Carol Vierthaler, Community Blood Center’s donor recruiter for Johnson County. “High- schoolers provide 15 percent of all blood in Kansas City.”
A high school blood drive like St. James’ provides a fresh group of donors each year, as “a new set of 16-year-olds who can donate” becomes eligible, Vierthaler said.
And it’s a win-win for everyone, since most students are happy to have a reason to get out of class.
Nationwide, 60 percent of the general population could give blood, but only five percent actually does, according to the blood center.
If everyone who gave blood once a year would donate twice a year, there would be no shortage, Vierthaler said.
That first blood drive at St. James yielded an impressive 124 units. The school went well beyond its goal of 80 units — they had more than that in first-time donors, with 93.
With so many young donors lining up to give blood for the first time, “we had a lot of scared kids that day,” said Miller.
When you consider that the school, only three years old, did not yet have a senior class to draw from, it’s even more amazing.
“For a high school drive with no seniors yet, that’s great,” Vierthaler said.
“I was just so excited and so happy I started crying,” said Krista Zuroske, the junior who organized the blood drive as a service project. She had already started planning the event when the Millers approached her about having the drive in Dopp’s honor.
Miller said the St. James community “inundated” that first blood drive.
“Nobody complained about having to wait,” Miller said. “People were happy to be there and giving.”
Zuroske said those who couldn’t donate due to health reasons or a phobia of needles did their part, too, praying for the success of the drive.
This year’s drive will be held on the anniversary of Dopp’s death, Nov. 7. It will recognize another student, Brooks Wisdom, as well; she, too, would have been a senior.
The event is a “good chance to remember how they lived their lives,” said Zuroske.
Caitlin Lewis, who is assisting Zuroske this year, was also inspired by the first effort.
“I tried three times over the summer to donate again,” she said.
The blood drive will be held Nov. 7 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the gym at St. James, 24505 Prairie Star Pkwy., Lenexa. Blood donors must be 17 or older, in good general health and weigh at least 115 pounds. Sixteen-year-olds can donate with parental permission. To avoid waiting, donors can make an online reservation at: esavealifenow.org; enter StJamesAcademy as the login code.
Miller will be at the drive, encouraging students and others to become active blood donors.
“You never know when it might be your mom, dad, brother or sister that needs blood,” he said.