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How to save a life

March 18, 2012
By KIM LOCCISANO - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader

If you have ever wanted to save the world - or even just a little part of it - but never really believed one person's actions could actually impact the course of history, here is a foolproof way to make that happen: donate blood through an American Red Cross blood drive or by making an individual appointment at your local office to accomplish that same life-affirming goal.

Donating blood is simple. It is a virtually painless process. And it is one of the most reliable ways to impact the history of mankind, as your donation could very easily mean the difference between life and death for an injured or ill person.

Donating blood is a surefire means of becoming a very real superhero, and not just to one person but to several, thanks to the many things specialists are able to do today to literally make the most of each individual unit of donated blood.

Article Photos

Blood donations are always needed whether being shared by donors who have returned every time they are eligible to donate, or by those who are sharing the gift of life for the first time. St. Clairsville resident Dean Meredith took part in a recent blood drive at the Ohio Valley Mall. It was his first time to donate blood. He is seen here being attended by American Red Cross Collection Specialists Matt Phillips and Jamie Stenger, both of Martins Ferry.

This is not an overstatement when you think about the many positive things which can literally come from putting a single unit of healthy, donated human blood to work through the incredible resources of the nation's healthcare system today.

At the very least, following through on a decision to donate blood is the kind of move a selfless person makes simply because it the right thing to do, and a good thing to do.

It's the kind of thing that can make you feel really good about yourself.

Chances are the identities of the many people who stand to personally benefit from your single unit donation of blood or blood products will never be known to you, making each such gift that much more meaningful to everyone involved in the process of collecting, maintaining, distributing and delivering each such gift.

Though the impact of donating a unit of blood is nothing short of sharing a gift of life with a stranger, it is not the kind of thing that will attract great attention or earn the donor public acclaim or great reward.

The act of donating blood will get you a band-aid, a glass of juice, possibly a t-shirt to commemorate a special blood drive event, a cookie or piece of pizza and some friendly conversation over the course of the actual donation process.

In the eyes of one local man who just recently made his first blood donation during a small drive at the Ohio Valley Mall, just the thought that his effort might help someone in need was more than enough motivation to share a little time and blood for a good cause on a rainy afternoon.

"This is the first time I ever gave blood," reflected Dean Meredith of St. Clairsville, as he moved from a donor table to the cantina section of the blood drive collections area at the center of the Ohio Valley Mall during a recent general blood drive. "My blood just might help save someone's life. That's pretty impressive!"

His comment brought a smile to all those within earshot whether veterans or newcomers to the process.

The realization seemed to have a genuine impact on his appreciation for what had just happened thanks to his willingness to share the gift of his blood and the ease of access to blood collections services through the American Red Cross staff members onsite for the blood drive at the mall.

When it comes to our nation's readily available collected, stored and properly maintained blood and blood products, the truth is there for all too see. It is both terrifying and embarrassing because the supply never meets the demands.

Donating blood is not painful.

It takes only a few minutes to make a blood donation at a blood drive or via donation made at your area blood bank or American Red Cross office.

If you have never donated blood before, deciding to donate it sometime this month will only add to the ongoing celebration that is National American Red Cross Month.

The benefit of donating a few minutes of your time and a small amount of your blood? Your actions just might play a pivotal role in efforts to help save someone's life, and while it may very well go to help a total stranger, it just might help someone you know, say collections experts.

Not everyone working at an American Red Cross blood drive is a healthcare professional. Some are simply there as volunteers whose mission it is to make the experience for donors positive, personally rewarding, and leaving them wanting to come back to donate again as soon as they are able to do so safely.

According to one volunteer who has been on hand at bloodmobiles for more than 30 years, there is a serious lack of involvement from a group she called "younger people."

"Anyone who comes to a blood drive where I'm volunteering these days will likely get to know me as the 'Cookie Lady'," offered experienced volunteer Jean Paull of Wheeling, noting she has been helping out American Red Cross blood drives for 31 years.

Two key things keep her dedication to the effort every bit as solid as when she first began volunteering for the organization 31 years ago.

"I love to talk to the people. It's fun to interact with everyone who comes through, and after a while - because a lot of folks are repeat donors - you can get to know people you might never have had a chance to get to know otherwise."

She also knows spending time in support of these blood mobiles is a way to make life better for others around her and for herself on many levels.

Paull was herself a regular donor at local blood drives for many years, giving her a voice of authority when it comes to overseeing the wellness of those she helps to monitor at a given donation site.

Though she is always pleased to see the face of a returning donor, Paull admits being concerned about the lack of involvement from donors or volunteers from among the ranks of area residents she routinely refers to as young people.

"We need to find a way to bring more eligible young people, whether that means taking blood drives into the schools more often so people who are eligible can access your services easily," she offered.

"We always are in need of blood donors," reflected the 31-year veteran of blood drive volunteering. "You never have too many."

Area resident Shirley Runeke has been a Red Cross volunteer at blood drives for about eight years. She is a retired nurse who completely enjoyed her career at Peterson Rehabilitation Hospital, and sees her volunteering career as a means of keeping her people skills up and her basic nursing skills honed.

"I like to work with people," she offered when asked why she enjoys the volunteering work so much. "There is no substitute for blood, so what we do is really helping make life better for someone who really needs our help."

A person can donate whole blood every 56 days (every 112 days for double red cell donation).

The body of the average adult contains approximately 10 to 12 pints of blood. When a person gives blood, he or she donates one unit, which equals approximately one pint or about one cupful of red cells and one cupful of plasma.

Questions about donor eligibility can be directed to the "Donating Blood" section of or to the American Red Cross Donor Client Support Center, 1-866-236-3276.

To give blood, a person must be 17 years of age (16 with signed parental consent in Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia), meet weight and height requirements (110 pounds or more, depending on height) and be in generally good health to be eligible to donate blood. Individuals should bring their Red Cross blood donor card or other form of positive ID when presenting to donate, she explained.

Some basics about blood donation:

"The American Red Cross, Greater Alleghenies Blood Services Region, directly serves hospitals, patients and donors in a 100-county area in Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, and also supports blood needs experienced by patients elsewhere in hospitals served through Red Cross Blood Services. Local needs are always met first. However, as a national blood system, the Red Cross has a unique responsibility to help ensure hospital patients throughout the U.S. have blood when they need it," shared Cheryl Gergely of the regional office.

The number of units of blood donated in fiscal year 2010 totaled 187,514 with almost 90 percent collected at drives in places almost always seen as the heart of their respective community such as churches, schools, businesses, hospitals, fire halls, service organizations and the like.

Today, a person can arrange to make blood donations during an upcoming surgery. There were 849 autologous donations.

Directed Donations, those given by families and friends for use by a specific patient before pre-scheduled surgery totaled 80 donations.

Other unique procedures serving those with very specialized blood product resources or needs such as individuals with high platelet counts who can donate two or more products in a single donation procedure saw 8,719 single donor platelets (plateletapheresis) donations netting 16,616 total platelet products.

A unique procedure involving double red cell donation nets the equivalent of two red cell products and returns the remaining components to the donor, allowing one person to provide two red cell products in a single blood donation visit. Double red cell products netted through this method totaled 14,684 for that fiscal year in this region, shared Gergely.

One thing which never seems to change when it comes to blood needs across America - donations have never yet met the need, and each number tallied is really a person in need or willing to give the gift of life to another.

Experts at collection centers or blood drives are there to help make the process go smoothly and easily for you, the blood donor.

You never know whose life might be saved.



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