Hoosiers giving the gift of life

Around the middle of March, the COVID-19 pandemic caused mass cancellations of schools and businesses in Indiana, resulting in the cancellation of blood drives.

“It was necessary for schools to close, then companies started working remotely, and we had to cancel those drives,” said Donna Colón, executive director of American Red Cross, Indiana Region. “When all of that happenedm we were losing hundreds of units of blood, and as of April 5, we have lost about 400,000 units of blood across the nation.”

Colón said everybody went into a panic because of the mass cancellations, and what they did not want to have happen was to have a blood crisis on top of a pandemic.

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“We had gone into a severe blood shortage, and we needed to fix that, so we started rescheduling a lot of the blood drives that had been canceled,” she said. “So then Hoosiers with their Hoosier hospitality started coming out in waves, and they responded because they understood.”

American Red Cross supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood, and so they were really publicizing that to let people know.

“Even on top of a pandemic, which is a really hard time for everyone, there are still emergencies that happen, such as car accidents, cancer patients that need blood transfusions,” Colón said.

“Also, mothers having babies that might have complications, and there are still patients that need lifesaving blood. There is no way to simplify this, so we have to have donors as that blood supply has a limited shelf life, so we have to keep a rolling inventory.”

She said the American Red Cross has kind of readjusted, and Hoosiers came out to donate. As of April 6, they feel like the blood supply is great. Blood, however, has a shelf life of 42 days, so this is like a long-term, rolling need.

As far as extra safety precautions go, Colón said everyone on the staff and those helping as volunteers are all getting their temperatures checked and making sure they are feeling good before they come in to work that day.

“Our staff members are wearing face masks, but they are hard to come by, so as we are getting supplies in, we are pushing supplies out to our volunteers and staff working during our drives,” she said.

“What we’ve been telling people is when they get to the donation site, stay in the cars until it’s time for their appointment because we do have safety protocols that we need to abide by before letting people into the building.”

She said for donors, their temperatures are being taken before they go into the donation area, and hand sanitizer is provided before they come into the donor area.

“They are also given hand sanitizer throughout the donation process, and we are following social distancing between donors, as well, with beds and chairs spaced 6 feet apart in the entry, donation and refreshment areas,” Colón said.

Volunteers make sure all equipment and donor-touched areas are disinfected regularly and change gloves between every donor.

These mitigation measures will help to keep blood recipients, staff and donors safe.

Blood platelet donations are always needed, too. Platelets are tiny cells in your blood that form clots and stop bleeding.

For millions of Americans, they are essential to surviving and fighting cancer, chronic diseases and traumatic injuries. Every 15 seconds, someone needs platelets. Platelets must be used within five days, and new donors are needed every day.

“You can go to redcrossblood.org and put in your ZIP code to find the closest blood drive to you,” said Colón. “I use the Red Cross Blood Donor App on my phone to find drives nearby, and you can also track where your blood goes, which is pretty cool.”

Donna Watkins, central Indiana district manager of American Red Cross, Indiana and Ohio blood services region, said blood donors need to wait 56 days between donations.

“There are regular blood donations and also power red donations, and during a power red donation, a donor gives a concentrated dose of red cells, the part of the blood used every day for those needing transfusions as part of their care,” Watkins said.

“This type of donation uses an automated process that separates red blood cells from the other blood components, then safely and comfortably returns plasma and platelets to the donor.”

Cara Lawson, DRD account manager for the American Red Cross, said hospitals often reach for red blood cells for trauma victims and cancer patients. Power red donor qualifications differ based on gender. Males should be at least 130 pounds and 5 feet, 1 inch tall, and the requirement for females is at least 150 pounds and 5 feet, 5 inches tall.

“The Red Cross only collects blood from those feeling healthy and well at the time of donation,” Lawson said. “There is no evidence and there are no reported cases of the coronavirus — or any respiratory virus — being transmitted by a blood transfusion.”

Barbara Wooten of Seymour, who was donating blood during the recent drive in the city, said she has given before and is always trying to donate blood when the opportunity arises.

Harold Snider of Seymour has done the same.

“I’m signed up for the power red donation and have been giving blood since 1965,” he said. “I started being a blood donor back when I began working at Cummins.”

First Baptist Church of Seymour was the host for last week’s blood drive, which happened to fall on Maundy Thursday. All 61 appointment slots were filled, and lead pastor Jeremy Myers volunteered his time to help check people in and take temperatures.

“I had quite a bit of time between checking people in at today’s blood drive. As we collected blood that very well could save lives, I found it more than appropriate that the drive took place this week,” Myers said.

“Many gave of themselves to save others, much like Christ, who gave not only his blood but his very life to save ours, not just now, but forevermore.”

Schedule an appointment to donate blood using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767).