University well-suited, active in blood donations
Fourth-year holds drive for military, veterans; CIO, IFC support national, state blood banks
“Needles don’t really bug me,” first-year Nursing student Lauren Odegaard said.
This is a good thing — and not just because she will likely work with them professionally. Odegaard was one of a host of donors who participated in the ROTC blood drive March 27. The event, organized by fourth-year Nursing student Kaitlyn McQuade, a member of Army ROTC, collected blood specifically for active military personnel, veterans and their families — the second such drive McQuade has organized while at the University.
McQuade said she was inspired by an Armed Services Blood Program drive she saw in Washington state while undergoing ROTC training there.
“All the blood [collected] today goes back to service members, veterans, and their families,” McQuade said. A normal donation generally collects one pint of blood from each person.
Aside from blood drives coordinated by individuals, national and state blood banks also have a major organizing presence at the University. The American Red Cross Club, a CIO on Grounds, is one such group which works with the local chapter of the American Red Cross to hold monthly blood drives on Grounds.
The other major blood bank presence at the University is Virginia Blood Services, a nonprofit provider of blood which serves Virginia hospitals and is the sole provider of blood to the University Health Center. Virginia Blood Services hosts blood drives on Grounds throughout the year, including the Crimson War, an annual week-long blood drive in the fall co-hosted by the bank and the Inter-Fraternity Council. The drive was established as a competition between the University and Virginia Tech to see who can donate the most blood — clearly effective, when this past fall, the University donated three times as much as Tech.
A common concern among blood drive organizers is logistics. McQuade said finding a location through The Source, the University’s system for reservations and scheduling for major events, was difficult.
“It’s a bit of a hassle,” McQuade said. “It can take them about two weeks to contact you.”
In addition, equipment and medical volunteers, both civilian and military, had to come from Fort Bragg, N.C., a four-hour drive from Charlottesville.
“This morning we picked up 200 pounds of ice [to preserve the collected blood],” McQuade said on the day of the blood drive.
Ben Gorman, a second-year College student and former IFC community service chair, described his logistical experience with the Crimson War in similar terms.
“[There were] lots of obstacles,” Gorman said.
Gorman also had problems with The Source, which required the relocation of a blood-collection bus for a single day because it was “infringing on students’ ability to walk.” He also said a bus had to be relocated from the traffic-heavy Clark Hall sidewalk to Newcomb due to construction at Clark during this year’s drive.
Unfortunately, the Newcomb site received fewer donations than the old one. On some days, turnout was as low as 10 people while, according to Gorman, “historically [the Clark Hall bus] was getting nearly 50 to 100 people a day.”
Emily Bolster, a third-year Nursing student and vice president of blood drives for the American Red Cross Club, said obtaining parking passes for Red Cross staff was another important aspect of bringing together a drive and described occasional problems.
“Sometimes [the parking pass is] reserved for us, but given to someone else,” she said.
McQuade, however, said University transportation had been very helpful, donating 40 parking passes.
Michelle Westbay, the marketing communications lead for Virginia Blood Services, also said extensive planning was required to ensure a successful drive.
“Our account managers look for the correct amount of electrical outlets, space restrictions, air condition, safety measures, etc. to ensure we can safely and efficiently run a drive,” Westbay said in an email. “VBS does contribute all the necessary materials and equipment for blood drives. Coordinators will often recruit volunteers, which [we] are also very thankful for!”
On the whole, University students appear to be receptive to large number of blood drive opportunities they can find on Grounds. McQuade said she was pleasantly surprised when her blood drive last year collected 71 pints of blood, especially because the initial goal was only 50.
Westbay, meanwhile, said colleges are generally well-suited places to run blood drives.
“Many times, we see first time donors at college drives,” she said. “Students are enthusiastic and understand the importance of the role they are playing in the lives of patients.”
At times, though, there are obstacles to student attendance.
“It’s less about the willingness to give blood so much as the convenience to,” Gorman said. “Everyone is really busy.”
Gorman said turnout out trends for this year have also been lower than normal due to bad weather, which discourages people from making the trip out to donate. Bolster echoed that bad weather had inhibited donations to American Red Cross drives this year.
“The weather has been terrible so we’ve had some cancellations,” Bolster said. “Also, people don’t tend to donate as much during the winter.”
Looking toward the future
Planning ahead, better marketing was a common goal among the blood drive organizers.
“The most important factor in increasing the numbers is definitely putting the trucks in the right places, getting the word out, tabling in the right places,” Gorman said.
McQuade also commented on her shift toward more aggressive marketing when planning her second blood drive.
“The first time all we did was use HooView and flyers around Grounds,” she said. “This time, we reached out to Matt Kelly [who] got us a spot on the local news [and] radio, a lot of outreach to the community.”
Bolster said better communication between her own American Red Cross Club and Virginia Blood Services might help stop the competition between the two organizations for student donors.
“I would love to see some better cooperation between Virginia Blood Services and the American Red Cross,” Bolster said. “A lot of times Virginia Blood Services will hold a blood drive on Grounds right before the American Red Cross does, which takes away from the amount of donors that we get.”
Westbay said total demand for blood has only increased in recent years.
“Advances in surgeries and cancer treatment, tightening … blood donation criteria, seasonal shortages, and aging of the blood donor populations have played an important role in increasing blood demands,” Westbay said. “The need for blood is constant.”
This holds especially true because of the many medical restrictions which can restrict community members from donating.
Westbay said common disqualifiers include low iron levels, travel restrictions, medications, minor illnesses and dental work. In addition, men who have had sexual activity with another man once since 1977 are not allowed to give blood by federal mandate.
“While an estimated 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible … to donate blood at any given time, less than 10 percent do so annually,” she said. “If all of our donors donated just one more time a year, we would never have a blood shortage.”
Indeed, a healthy adult may donate a pint of blood up to every 56 days. That pint — the volume of a tall glass of beer — is enough to save up to three lives.
“Donating blood is safe and easy,” Westbay said. “The staff at Virginia Blood Services has an excellent reputation.”
Good consciences all around
Of course, blood recipients and donors are not the only ones feeling good about the process.
“I was so happy to see so many students who were willing to give blood,” Gorman said. “Everyone was willing and happy to do it.”
For McQuade the experience of hosting her first drive was overwhelmingly positive.
“[It was] so rewarding and so many people from the University came out,” she said.
And though McQuade said she was optimistic about her prospects concerning student turnout Thursday, she included a failsafe incentive just in case: if enough Army ROTC kids came out, physical training would be cancelled.