Summer call made for 'gift of life'

Tina Williams, a medical technologist at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s blood bank, processes a blood sample for a patient. Officials with the American Red Cross say that O-negative, A-negative and B-negative are the blood types especially needed right now.

Tina Williams, a medical technologist at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s blood bank, processes a blood sample for a patient. Officials with the American Red Cross say that O-negative, A-negative and B-negative are the blood types especially needed right now.

ALBANY, Ga. -- As more people are spending time at the beach or at cookouts, sometimes not much thought is given to some of the things a person could be doing to help others.

Throughout the year, there are patients in hospital beds counting on blood provided by eligible and willing donors. With a tendency for donations to dwindle in the summer months, officials are making the push now to get people to roll up their sleeves.

Officials at the American Red Cross say that, historically, during the period from June to August, about two fewer donors give at each drive than what patients need. Last summer, an already shorter supply in addition to multiple weather events resulted in the cancellation of dozens of blood drives.

The outcome was a shortfall of nearly 1,700 units of blood and platelets, prompting an emergency call for donations.

"The American Red Cross encourages eligible donors to give because the need is constant," said Kristen Stancil, communications program manager for the Red Cross Southern Blood Services Region. "Patients don't get a vacation or break from needing blood and rely on volunteer donors to help ensure blood is available when they need it. It's also important to know that red blood cells have a shelf life of only 42 days.

"I don't currently have the numbers to compare where we were this time last year, but we're seeing what we historically do during the summer months and that's fewer people donating. Two reasons for the decline are summer vacations and activities conflict with donation appointments for many donors and college and high school students make up as much as 20 percent of donations during the school year, and their blood donations drop when school is out."

All blood types are needed, but Stancil said that O-negative, A-negative and B-negative are especially needed.

"Those blood types are most in demand and usually the first to run out during a shortage," she said. "Also, type O-negative is the universal blood type and can potentially be transfused to patients with any blood type."

As a way to bring in more donors, the Red Cross has a "Summer of Stories" campaign ongoing until Sept. 9 through which the organization hopes to encourage at least two more donors to give at every Red Cross drive over the summer by allowing people to share their stories on how blood donations have touched their lives.

Sometimes the importance of giving blood can be even be lost on those working in the health care field. Such was the case until recently with Linda Van Der Merwe, vice president of oncology services at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

"In February, my husband became sick very quickly," she said. "We were told he would need an emergency liver transplant. Even before we knew what was wrong, he needed blood. He needed a lot of blood.

"Every unit was a person who donated blood so my husband could live."

First entering Phoebe on Feb. 21, he had the transplant at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta on March 3. The diagnosis was acute liver failure, but it is still unclear what exactly caused it.

Since that time, Van Der Merwe said her eyes have been opened to the importance of giving blood -- and is committed to signing up to donate at any time Phoebe hosts a blood drive.

"There are a lot of folks who just don't realize what the impact is until something comes up that you are not prepared for," she said. "I am in the health care field; I should have known. If I didn't know, I'm sure there are others who don't.

"It's a little needle stick, and what you reap out of it is volumes. It doesn't matter what blood type it is."

Van Der Merwe even had her eyes opened to what exactly happens to a blood sample before a recipient gets it.

"I had no qualms about my husband receiving blood," she said. "...There were double- and triple-checks done. I felt very comfortable with it."

With her husband now recovering from the transplant, she appears to now be set on getting the word out on the significance of donating.

"It is a very worthwhile," she said. "You won't know who it is, but you will know you have helped someone."

Some states collect more blood than they need, but Georgia has traditionally had a harder time bringing in donors -- resulting in blood often being imported in from other states, officials say.

For every unit that is collected, there is assurance it will be well utilized.

"It is important to use every unit," said Dian Swafford, blood bank manager at Phoebe. "We don't let anything go to waste. We owe it to our donors."

Statistics from the Red Cross show that there is someone in need of blood in the United States every two seconds. The average red blood cell transfusion is approximately three pints, while a single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.

Most healthy individuals who are at least 17-years-old and weigh 110 pounds are eligible to donate. On Monday and Tuesday of next week, those who which to donate can go by the Albany Red Cross Blood Donation Center at 1515 Dawson Road 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday anfd Tuesday, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m.-2 p.m. July 6.

There is also a blood drive planned for 2 p.m.-6 p.m. Friday at the Wynnsong 16, 2823 Nottingham Way.

As part of the "Summer of Stories" campaign, all donors who are present between Monday and July 15 could win one of five $3,000 American Express gift cards. Those wishing to contribute their story to the campaign or watch patient testimonials can visit www.redcrossblood.org/summer.

For more information on how to make a donation, visit www.redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.