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Blood banks rely on regular donors


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It takes 550 donations every day for the Indiana Blood Center to supply hospitals in the state with the necessary supply of blood.

More than 100,000 people last year donated blood. Among them was Mary Ann Butler, who started donating blood in 2001 after her nephew was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 3.

“I felt like I needed to do something,” Butler said.

“I take care of my mother, so I can’t do a lot of volunteering, but this I can do,” the Columbus resident said.

Since that first visit, Butler has returned to the Indiana Blood Center location in Columbus to donate 59 times.

Ashley Grider, a blood specialist at the National Road office, said frequent donors such as Butler help ensure an adequate blood supply for the Columbus area.

“We really do rely heavily on our regular donors,” Grider said. “Almost half the population can donate, but less than 10 percent actually give every year.”

Butler donates platelets, which are blood cells that are used to stop bleeding. During the collection of platelets, blood is spun in a centrifuge, platelets are collected, and the blood is returned to the donor’s body.

The process takes about 90 minutes. Butler always brings something to read, and there is a television at the blood center to help pass the time.

“I started giving (whole) blood, but my body didn’t respond as well. So I started doing platelets, and I did fine with that,” Butler said. “Now it’s pretty much routine.”

Statewide network

The Indiana Blood Center supplies blood to more than 60 hospitals throughout the state, including Columbus Regional Hospital.

Darcy Hill, a blood bank technical specialist at the Columbus hospital, said the Indiana Blood Center fills its blood needs.

“They supply all of the product that we use here,” Hill said. “They have been a great partner and are always willing to help us get whatever we need.”

The Columbus Regional Health network required 3,112 blood components from Indiana Blood Center last year to help treat patients fighting cancer, going through surgery, or who are being treated

for trauma.

The blood that is collected in Columbus is shipped to Indianapolis, where each unit of blood undergoes 12 tests to ensure it is safe for use. The blood, or its components, is then returned to one of the Indiana hospitals served by the Indiana Blood Center.

Hill said that is an important distinction.

“We encourage people to donate blood anywhere they choose,” Hill said. “But the blood that is donated through the Indiana Blood Center stays in Indiana.”

While the biggest number of local donations — 3,020 — were made last year at the Columbus blood center, a significant portion comes from mobile blood drives. Last year, 1,597 units of blood were collected from county residents at various donation sites.

Columbus area companies have been great donation partners, said Lucy Wehlking, a corporate communications specialist for the Indiana Blood Center’s state headquarters in Indianapolis.

For example, Cummins employees in Columbus donated 243 units of blood during mobile blood drives last year, making it the second-largest corporate donor location in the state.

Columbus Regional Hospital also sponsors several blood drives each year, which are open to the public.

Types of donations

Hill said people with blood type O negative are universal donors, which means their blood can be given to almost anyone. Fewer than 7 percent of the population, however, has this blood type, so it is always in demand.

Donations can consist of whole blood, plasma or platelets, and each has a different shelf life.

Whole blood, which can be donated every 56 days, has a shelf life of about 42 days.

Plasma can be collected every 28 days and up to 13 times per year. It can be stored for up to 12 months.

Platelets, which can be collected every seven days and not more than 24 times per year, have a shelf life of just five days, which includes the testing period. They are used for procedures such as cancer treatments, organ donations and surgery.

“We take a unit of whole blood and divide it into separate components,” Wehlking explained. “It is distributed based on hospital needs.”

Misconceptions

Grider said there are several common misconceptions about donating blood, including that it is painful and that an existing health condition might preclude people from making a donation.

“It’s really pretty painless for most people,” Grider said. “If you eat a healthy meal to ensure your iron level is up and stay hydrated, you should feel no ill effects.”

While there are conditions that might disqualify a donor, Grider said even diabetes does not automatically preclude a donation, as long as the disease is under control at the time of a donation.

Grider said most people who weigh at least 110 pounds, are generally feeling well and do not have an infection are able to donate.

Someone who has visited a country where there is a high risk for malaria, such as Mexico, will not be permitted to donate for 12 months.

One of the advantages to donating is that testing of your blood can be used as a health indicator, she said.

“There is a whole range of things that are checked, so it can be like getting a mini-physical every time,” Grider said. “If something is found during a test, the donor is notified right away.”

Butler said while it would be nice to know if something were wrong, that’s not why she donates.

“I don’t dwell on it, but I come back here to help somebody else because there is always a need,” Butler said. “It makes you feel good about yourself to know you are helping others.”

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