Monday Medical: Blood donations help our city

Yampa Valley Medical Center to host regional drive Jan. 20

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Nate Anderson

— We are fortunate to live in a special community, and the new year is a great time to pause to think about what each of us can do to make it even better. I have a suggestion to consider — something that costs nothing, is quick and easy to do, and yet will truly make an impact on the lives of others.

Become a blood donor.

As an emergency physician I always have appreciated the generosity of those people who give my colleagues and me such an essential resource for our patients.

Now is an ideal time to donate. Demand for blood is high throughout winter, and your opportunity is right at hand. January is National Blood Donation Month, and in partnership with Colorado’s Bonfils Blood Center, Yampa Valley Medical Center is hosting a blood drive Jan. 20.

I suppose blood donation is not something that many people spend much time thinking about. It is easy to assume we can count on others to handle it. But the burden of blood donation is carried by just 4 percent of Coloradans, and these donors could use your help.

According to Bonfils, more than 3,000 times per week, or about 165,000 times per year, somebody somewhere in our state needs blood or blood products. And many times, these people live right here in our own community.

James Wirta, the blood bank supervisor at YVMC, said the hospital required 400 to 500 units of blood products in the past year. The recipients might have been surgical patients, victims of accidents, cancer patients or expectant mothers.

As a regional hospital in a geographically isolated area, YVMC must be prepared to treat a wide range of conditions requiring transfusion. To carry out this function, the hospital maintains an accredited blood bank that works closely with the Bonfils Blood Center.

Bonfils, a nonprofit organization, serves 200 facilities throughout the region and provides 80 percent of the state’s blood supply. The partnership helps ensure that YVMC always will have the resources available to meet the needs of our patients.

Once you’ve decided to make the commitment, what actually happens when one donates blood? From the donor’s perspective, it’s a simple process. After arriving at your appointed time, you will complete a questionnaire. A brief interview and exam are performed to ensure the safety of the procedure.

You then will be escorted to a cot. In a process that usually takes just 10 to 15 minutes, a trained technician places an intravenous catheter, obtains the donation, applies a bandage, and sends you off to the hospital cafeteria where a friendly volunteer offers free refreshments.

After 10 to 15 minutes of replenishing your energy, you are on your way. But the process of getting your donation into the system is just starting.

Within 48 hours, your blood has been transported to the blood center, undergone typing and 13 tests for infectious diseases, been separated into its several components, then packaged and shipped to one of the 200 facilities served by Bonfils, perhaps even back to YVMC.

The whole process is very efficient, with 97 percent of donated units being used, and each one helping as many as three patients.

What makes somebody decide to become a donor? For some, it is as simple as recognizing the pressing need and having a desire to help. But for many, it is more personal than that, and there is a story behind it all.

I’m a donor, and I’ll share my story. When I was a teen, my critically ill father needed transfusions – a lot of them, 56 in all. I was amazed and touched, even at that age, by the response of our neighbors and friends, many of them nervous first-time donors, who rallied around our family and donated on his behalf.

My family made a commitment to repay, unit for unit, that tremendous act of support, and we proudly met that goal many years ago. However, I felt a debt remained, and I decided to continue to donate blood until I had myself replaced the gifts of all those friends and strangers to my father.

That debt also is retired, but come Jan. 20, I’ll still be at the drive working on my next 56, because some other child’s father may need help. I invite you to join me.

Nate Anderson, MD, is a board-certified emergency physician at Yampa Valley Medical Center and medical director of the trauma service. He can be reached at nathan.anderson@yvmc.org.

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