Just an hour

The faded green vinyl floor is wet with the melt of snow-covered boots, and several people stumble as they step up into the trailer.

“Do you have an appointment?” asks a woman from a cubicle immediately inside the door.If not, the person is turned away for today, but encouraged to attend the blood drive on Jan. 31 at the University Memorial Center. The Bonfils Mobile Blood Drive trailer arrived late to Folsom Plaza Thursday morning because of icy road conditions. The donation center was booked solid with appointments and running behind.

Those with appointments sat quietly on benches, most of them holding long questionnaire sheets where they’ve answered personal health inquiries like, “Have you ever been diagnosed with cancer?” or, for male donors, “From 1977 to the present, have you had sexual contact with another man?”

The waiting area is filled with a wide array of people: old and young, black and white, male and female. Bonfils Marketing and Communications Director Tiffany Anderson said that this wide array extends into the entire blood donor community: of Bonfils’ 80,000 active blood donors, the average age is 44 years old, 52 percent are female and 48 percent are male, and they are most often college-educated, registered voters who donate to several causes.

“There’s really no trend to it,” Anderson said. “It’s interesting. We can be out in a rural community and everyone comes. Or we can be at our mobile blood drive downtown and we’ll get tons of people.”

While a person is eligible to donate once every 8 weeks, the average Bonfils donor gives twice a year, Anderson said. Curt Williams, a 42 year old Norlin librarian with blood type O-negative, said he tries to donate whenever there is a campus blood drive.

“I’m the universal donor,” Williams said. “I feel I’ve got a moral responsibility. I’ve got to do it.”

The first step of the hour-long donation process is registration. A Bonfils technician enters the contact information of new donors and updates the information for previous donors while the questionnaire is being filled out.

Next comes the strictly confidential second step of the blood donation process, where the technician can explore any questionnaire answers that might defer one from donating blood. This portion also includes the ever-dreaded finger prick.

“Most people say this is the worst part of it all,” the technician said.

The dark scarlet fluid fills a tiny glass tube, which the technician then places in a hematocrit (much like a small centrifuge). A donor’s red blood cell proportion, blood pressure, pulse, and temperature must all be within normal levels in order for the donor to be eligible. The technician then sends the donor out to the phlebotomists, a fancy name for the people about to jab the donor with a 16- or 17-gauge needle.

Many people don’t make it this far. One woman stepped out of the technician’s office, frowning.

“I got my ears pierced, so I can’t,” she said.

Deferrals can happen for many reasons. Some of these reasons include having received tattoos, piercings or blood transfusions in the last 12 months, some medications, and any history of HIV/AIDS, lymphoma or leukemia. Only 38% of the US population is eligible to donate.

Austin Caldera, a 21 year old CU junior majoring in Biochemisty, made it to the donation chair.

“The needle definitely gets bigger every time,” Caldera said with a laugh from the teal recliner.

Every few seconds, Caldera squeezes a rubber heart in his left hand, coaxing blood into the plastic bag under his arm. The HemoFlow machine rocks the bag back and forth, mixing the blood with the anticoagulant coating inside the bag to prevent clotting. It beeps loudly when the bag contains one pint of blood, signaling the phlebotomists that the donor is finished.
Outside the window, several students pass by the donation trailer without a second glance. According to research done by the Red Cross, the two most common reasons for not donating are “never thought about it” and “I don’t like needles”.
Williams said he thinks people who don’t donate are afraid of the unknown.
“They’re not sure what it is,” he said. “I think it’s mostly that they’re afraid of what it feels like. They’re not sure how it’s going to be.”
The Red Cross research says that more than 38,000 blood donations are needed every day and a total of 30 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S.
Morgan Mauch, a 21 year old CU senior majoring in Integrative Physiology who was ineligible for donation, is well aware of the need for blood.
“I think you don’t really hear about it a ton, but people always need blood transfusions, all the time,” Mauch said.
At the finish line of the donation experience, there is a smorgasbord of sugar-rich vending machine snacks: fruit juice, cookies, trail mix. Munching on a bag of Cheez-its, one can’t help but marvel at what can be accomplished in a single hour.
Published to CUindependent.com on 1/23/11 under headline “CU gives an hour.”

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