Monday Medical: Blood donations help community
December 4, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Editor's note: This article originally was published Jan. 10, 2011, and has been updated.
We all know we are fortunate to live in a special community, and the holiday season is a great time to think about what we each can do to make it even better. I have a suggestion for you to consider — something that costs nothing, is quick and easy to do and will truly improve the lives of others.
I'm talking about becoming a blood donor. As an emergency physician, I always have appreciated the generosity of those people who give me and my colleagues such an essential resource for our patients.
Now is an ideal time. Demand for blood is high throughout the winter, and your opportunity is at hand. In partnership with Colorado's Bonfils Blood Center and a new organization called Stop and Give, Yampa Valley Medical Center is hosting a blood drive Thursday.
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 in our state needs blood or blood products. On Dec. 9, 2010, that somebody was Laurie Sherlock, of Denver.
Sherlock was 35 weeks pregnant when she was struck by a hit-and-run driver who left her lying in the street in Denver's Stapleton neighborhood. She required trauma surgery, 30 units of blood, several units of platelets and other blood products.
Although Sherlock survived, her baby did not. She and her husband have reached out to partner with us at our blood drive through their nonprofit organization Stop and Give. Their goal is to promote blood donations and safe driving and to remember those injured or killed in car accidents.
Many times, people here in our own community need the blood we donate. YVMC blood bank supervisor James Wirta said the hospital required 400 to 500 units of blood products in 2010. 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 Bonfils.
This nonprofit organization provides 80 percent of the state's supply. The partnership helps ensure that YVMC always will have the resources available to meet the needs of its patients.
Once you've decided to make the commitment, what actually happens when you donate 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 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 and been separated into its several components. It then is 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. So now, I'm working on my next 56 because some other kid's father may need help. I invite you to join me.
Nate Anderson, M.D., is a board-certified emergency physician at Yampa Valley Medical Center and medical director of the trauma service. He can be reached at email@example.com.