Couple’s blood donations even more critical in face of shortage

Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer July 17, 2012 11:25 pm

 

Warren and Doris Roepke will roll up their sleeves next week and donate a pint of blood apiece. For many, it’s not a big deal.

But Doris’s pint will bring her total of donated blood to 24 gallons, 3 pints. And Warren is 2 pints behind her.

 

 

The Brookings couple have donated more blood than anyone else in Curry County – and plan to continue to do so until they no longer can.

“It’s something we can do to help others,” Doris said. “I never think about it. I’m giving another pint. Every once in awhile, I’ll mentally picture 25 gallons of milk jugs and think, ‘Oh my gosh!’ Anyone who’s physically able should do it.”

They are just behind Gerald Doran of Phoenix, Ore., who, at his next blood drive, will get his 35-gallon pin.

“You can only donate six times a year,” said Christina Dunlap, territory representative for the American Red Cross. “Divide that 35 gallons up, that’s 280 units of blood. That’s 46 years.”

A unit is about a pint of blood; 8 pints equals a gallon.

The reasons people donate blood run the gamut. Most do it because a family member or friend needs it, or they were once a recipient and want to repay the favor.

“My dad did it because it gave him a half-day off work,” Dunlap said with a laugh. “High school kids say it gets them out of math class, or whatever.”

One donor said she felt bad because she hadn’t donated in a long time and was worried she’d lost her A-plus blood donor status.

“She got her blood type – A-positive – mixed up with an A-plus grade,” Dunlap said, laughing. “We don’t grade donors.”

Doran has donated enough blood to have saved the lives of almost 800 people. He does it to help others.

Right now, the Red Cross can use all the blood it can get.

The Northwest region, which comprises southwest Washington and Oregon, is down to 68 units of O-negative blood, the type everyone can use.

And supplies of AB-negative, the rarest blood type, are down to 3 units.

“That’s not even enough to supply each hospital,” Dunlap said, noting that her region supplies 80 hospitals. “When this happens, there’s not as much sharing across the country. When everyone’s hurting, you can’t do that.”

Right now, however, blood supplies are at a “national critical alert,” meaning the entire nation is low on blood.

That’s one stage above “emergency,” meaning donation centers cannot fill hospital orders.

The slump is typical for this time of year, as people go on vacation, high school students are out of school and people are out playing.

Some are also getting injured. Add to them cancer patients who need transfusions, people undergoing surgery and catastrophic events, and the need is high.

Throw in disasters, such as power outages and extreme heat in the Midwest. Incidents like that not only drive up the demand for blood, but prevent donors from getting to blood drive centers.

This is the earliest in the seven years Dunlap has been with the Red Cross that she’s seen supplies dip this low.

“They’ve been this way since June and it usually happens about mid-July,” she said, adding that last month, the organization experienced a 10 percent drop in donations – 50,000 fewer pints – over the same period last year. “Unless people step it up, it won’t get better. That’s the challenge.”

Every day, the American Red Cross needs to collect 17,000 units of blood to supply hospitals throughout the nation.

Another challenge is that volunteers can only donate blood once every 56 days. And blood has a shelf life of 42 days.

In the days after 9/11, people came out in droves to donate blood. And while that was appreciated, those donors couldn’t contribute again for two months – and the near-glut of donated blood needed to be used before it was no longer good.

“We can’t have more than we can use, either,” Dunlap said. “You have to keep that supply constantly fresh.”

The blood drives in Brookings are two-day events, held twice a year. The next one will be held from 1 to 6 p.m. July 25, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 26. Both are at the Brookings-Harbor Christian Church at Fifth Avenue and Hassett Street.

Dunlap likes to remind people that the need for blood does not take a vacation and that, while the need is constant, the gratification is instant.

“Regardless what time of year it is, the need for blood is constant,” she said. “It always gets scary when you’re not prepared. Everyone here is in the business of saving lives.”