by Jill Ragar Esfeld
Special to The Leaven
What’s your type?
Mine is A+. I know because I’m a blood donor.
It’s not easy for me to give blood. I’m not a big fan of needles and so I find the process a little uncomfortable.
But I’ve got a trick that helps me get through it.
I start saying a rosary as soon as I lie down to have my blood drawn. I pray for the person whose life I will be saving, and the process is always finished before I am.
I like the sorrowful mysteries for this occasion; they remind me that, as a Catholic, I am called to imitate Christ, to share in his sacrifice, to be Eucharist to others.
What better way to do this than to give the gift of life to a complete stranger?
“That’s the satisfaction people get from donating blood,” said St. Ann, Prairie Village, parishioner Maureen O’Sullivan, director of recruiting for the Community Blood Center of Greater Kansas City. “They may never know who the recipient of their blood is, but they can be guaranteed that every bit of blood we collect goes to help people in our community.”
The Community Blood Center often partners with archdiocesan parishes and high schools to organize blood drives.
“The Blood Center is a local organization that supplies blood to 70 hospitals in both Kansas and Missouri,” explained Stann Tate, director of marketing. “When you give to the Community Blood Center, you’re helping a patient in our local area.”
The Blood Center has a constant need for donations because blood only has a shelf life of 42 days. And supplies are running desperately low this winter.
“This weather has the potential to be devastating to the blood supply,” O’Sullivan said when a recent blizzard hit the Midwest. “It’s hard to encourage people to come out and donate.
“They’re afraid of needles — they have a lot of things that prevent them — and this is just one more thing that prevents them from coming out.”
“Just one or two days of bad weather really negatively impacts the blood supply,” agreed Tate. “The primary thing we need blood for is to give it to hospitals so they can do those transfusions and help patients sustain life.”
Critical to life, there is no substitute for human blood. It can’t be manufactured. The only source is donations from generous people taking the time to give.
“Each unit of blood has the potential to help at least two people,” said O’Sullivan. “It’s divided into red cells and platelets and then plasma. The plasma can be used for a lot of different things — for trauma, for burn victims. We also provide plasma for pharmaceutical use.”
In Kansas, you can start donating blood when you’re 16 years old, and highschool students are conscious of their obligation. Twenty percent of the blood collected in the community and at mobile blood drives comes from high schools.
“High school students are great at giving back,” said Tate. “When you talk about today’s kids, they’re the millennial generation and they want to make their community a better place.”
“If you get those kids donating on a regular basis, they will become lifelong donors,” agreed O’Sullivan. “We rely heavily on them to help us meet the need of the local hospitals.”
Unfortunately, this harsh winter has meant many school closings and, as a result, the cancellation of several highschool blood drives.
“A lot of the schools have been closed — particularly in the outlying areas,” said O’Sullivan. “Our metro schools might be closed for one or two days, but oftentimes schools in remote areas are closed for a week. And those are lost opportunities for us to collect blood.”
To make up for high-school drives that never took place, the local need for blood donations is critical. That means that right now, in our community, we each have an opportunity to be Christlike — to imitate his act of love by sharing our own life without expectation of return.
“If you’ve never considered donating blood, please consider donating now,” said O’Sullivan. “Winter storms like we’ve had this year have the potential to wipe out the blood supply in the community.
“And nobody wants to think about their child, their parents, their sibling or their spouse being in the hospital and needing blood and it not being there,” she added.
“Everyone,” she continued, “has the opportunity to make a difference.
“It only takes an hour to save a life.”
Why I Give?
How do you go from being a sporadic blood donor to an advocate who counts the days until the next opportunity to give?
First, you stand by helplessly while a pediatrician examines your very sick child and then looks up at you and says, “This is life-threatening.”
Next, you learn from infectious disease specialists at Children’s Mercy Hospital that there’s only one known treatment for your child’s illness; something you can’t even pronounce —intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG).
Then you watch as this miraculous fluid flows into your child’s feverish, rash-covered body, and makes him well.
This was my experience 15 years ago when my son John was diagnosed with mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome (Kawasaki disease), a rare form of vasculitis that, if left untreated, can cause severe coronary artery aneurysms.
During John’s recovery, I researched IVIG and learned that it is made from plasma, the second component extracted from whole blood donations. I was shocked to discover that it takes as many as two thousand blood donations to make one unit of IVIG.
It took two units to cure John.
I was overwhelmed by the thought of so many people, who would never know my son, giving unselfishly to save his life. I couldn’t think of a more perfect example of Christ-like giving.
After that, I started donating blood with a very different attitude, determined to pay back that generosity.
I put a chart on our refrigerator that said “John’s IVIG payback.” Below those words were 4,000 little squares. After each donation, I colored in a square with a red marker.
When John turned 16, the age at which you can start donating blood in Kansas, I handed him the marker and I said, “Now you can help.”
He gave at his first opportunity, a blood drive at his high school, and has been a loyal donor ever since — along with his sister, his father and me.
To pay back those 4,000 donations, we not only have to give blood ourselves, but we have to convince others to do it, too.
And so I beg you with all my heart to call now and make an appointment, get online now and sign up for the nearest blood drive — no matter how inconvenient it may seem or how uncomfortable it may make you.
Do it not just because you can save a life, but because the life you save may be your own.
Or better still, your child’s.
Giving takes less than an hour
• 2-5 minutes — You’ll go to the registration desk, present your photo ID and state that you’re ready to give a life-saving donation of blood.
• 5-10 minutes — You’ll be given a clipboard with some paperwork, called a history form, which you’ll fill out privately.
• 5-10 minutes — You’ll go into a private history booth where you’ll be given a mini-physical. Your pulse, blood pressure, core temperature and hemoglobin level are checked.
• 10-15 minutes — You’ll be shown to one of several cots where you’ll lie down and your life-saving blood will be drawn.
• 5-10 minutes — You’ll sit down and enjoy a cup of juice and some cookies or crackers.
A cholesterol reading is done on every unit of blood. After you donate, you can go online to: www.savealifenow. org. The Community Blood Center has a program where you can sign in and get your health results after each donation. You can track that over time. You can print the information and take it to your doctor. You also can earn points for donating and turn them in for prizes.
The Community Blood Center recommends preparing your body for your donation by eating well and drinking plenty of fluids. After you’ve given your donation, be sure to eat good meals and drink plenty of fluids because your body is building that blood back up.
You can give blood every 56 days.
What type of blood is needed?
O- is the universal donor and so that is the type the Blood Center runs low on. At the writing of this article, it had only a halfday supply. Hospitals need O- on hand for trauma because, if patients’ blood types are unknown, they can immediately be transfused with O-.
O+ is also needed because 85 percent of the population can accept O+ blood.
Common types of blood like A+ are needed because there are many patients with them. Less common blood types like AB- are needed because there are fewer donors to give them.
Stann Tate, Community Blood Center’s director of marketing, says simply, “The most important type of blood we need is the one that’s not on the shelf.”
Blood has many uses beyond life-saving transfusions. The following list of uses for the components of blood makes it clear how important blood donations are:
• Platelets are used to treat leukemia and cancer patients in order to aid clotting and control bleeding from treatments.
• Red blood cells are used in surgery in order to bring much needed oxygen during an operation or to replenish rich red blood cell levels in anemia patients.
• Cryoprecipitate is sometimes extracted from plasma and used to help hemophilia patients with clotting deficiencies.
• Plasma proteins are used to treat a multitude of illnesses, such as: albumin, for kidney and liver disease; gamma globulin, for measles and hepatitis; and Factor VIII, for hemophilia.
Another great need — platelets
Another important donation opportunity is donating platelets. The Community Blood Center has a great need for donors because platelets have a shelf life of only five days. Cancer and trauma patients need platelets. Platelet donations take place at neighborhood donation centers. To find out more about donating platelets, visit the Web site at: www. savealifenow.org (click on “Apheresis – Automated Blood Collection”).