Blood work: voluntarism that comes from your heart



By Mike Kroll


Anyone reading a daily newspaper during the last two weeks of horrible winter weather no doubt noticed the “sky is falling” articles about the great blood shortage. You probably feared for your personal safety or that of a loved one should they have an accident or require surgery while blood was critically short. Well you can rest assured that this was never a problem for either of the two Galesburg hospitals or those in the Quad Cities or even Canton, Macomb, or Monmouth because their blood supplier can proudly boast of never failing to provide necessary blood to its partner hospitals throughout a 33-year history in the blood supply business. The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center, headquartered in Davenport, is the exclusive source of blood products for all the hospitals listed above and many more across the 45 counties in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri that it serves.

“I don't want to give the wrong impression here, the bad weather has reduced our collection of blood and therefore our inventories but we have never failed to meet the needs of our partner hospitals,” explained Brenda Lehr who coordinates mobile blood collection efforts for MVRBC-served counties surrounding Galesburg. According to Lehr her organization collects about half of its blood donations from fixed centers scattered across the region and half from mobile blood drives held in high schools, colleges, churches and businesses in the service area. “Many of the miracles of modern medicine would not be possible without a reliable blood supply and helping to insure that supply is my job.”

MVRBC is one of many regional blood centers that have grown across the country in competition with the American Red Cross that historically has collected blood for decades but many local hospitals have a history of quietly running their own blood collection efforts as well. In 2006 MVRBC collected more than 120,000 units of blood and can proudly boast that 99 percent of that blood was actually used. This is no minor accomplishment since the shelf-life of red blood cells is only 42 days. This is possible because of how closely each hospital's blood supply is monitored and the resource sharing system that MVRBC participates in with other regional blood centers. As older blood approaches the end of its shelf life it is sent to urban hospitals in city's like Chicago where blood usage is much higher. Conversely, when inventories are low locally this same system helps cover all the area blood needs.

“This resource sharing arrangement was critical to many people who suffered through the Gulf coast hurricanes,” noted Lehr. “Areas of Louisiana and Mississippi went for months without any local blood collection but with a great need for blood supply and other centers such as ours helped them out. Nearly all of the time we have been fortunate to be self-sufficient in meeting the blood needs of our hospitals but participating in a system like this means that there will should be a shortage of blood at one of our partner hospitals. It is important for people to remember that people who need blood cannot get it any other way than from blood donors and each of us never knows when someone precious to us might have such a need.”

Since 2000 both Galesburg hospitals have received all of their blood products from MVRBC and the arrangement seems to be working well. Brenda has been at her current job for two years in an area that MVRBC still sees as “developing the culture of blood donation.” Her goal is to make it the norm for people to donate blood and she has her work cut out for her. Estimates are that 60 percent of adults over 16 are eligible to donate blood but a mere five percent actually do so. There are dozens of reasons people give why they cannot donate blood, most of which are due to false or mistaken assumptions. That is why Brenda helped organize blood drives at 93 area high schools in 2006 and plans to hit even more this year.

“We want our young people to see regular blood donation as an easy and important contribution they can make to their community. In Illinois anyone over 17 who is in generally good health and weighs at least 110 pounds should be eligible to donate blood and if you are 16 and meet the other conditions you can also donate with parental permission. When you donate either at one of our fixed sites or a mobile blood drive our staff nurses always check over your computerized answers to a simple health survey and are ready to answer any questions that might arise. On the average our donors presently give blood once or twice a year but we would love to raise that frequency. You can donate every 56 days or about eight times annually but were aiming to raise our average to three times annually. Our database keeps track of donations and if someone donates three or more times in a twelve month period we will provide a recognition gift as a Loyal Donor. By now almost everyone should know that donating blood is completely safe. Most of our staff is dedicated to safely and comfortably collecting blood from our donors and we insure the safety of our recipients by thoroughly testing each and every blood donation.”

MVRBC is no small organization with 300 employees and about the same number of volunteers they serve a large region. The blood center estimates that it must average at least 400 units of blood collected daily to meet the needs of its service area hospitals. Brenda plays her part by arranging mobile collections where they can get a minimum of 20 units but always hope for more. Galesburg area donors can simply show up at their local facility at 555 N Kellogg Street during regularly scheduled donation times on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, 1:30-6pm; the first and third Saturday and the second Friday of each month 7-11am. Brenda would love you to stop by, donate some blood and eat some great soup and let her help you establish a personal tradition of blood donation.