Northeast donors give blood and platelets to the Red Cross

Needles, the thought of needles or being injected by needles makes some people cringe, but not Derek Jackson. He said he donates blood to the Northeast Philadelphia branch of the American Red Cross “whenever they call.”

“I think [donating blood] is a necessity,” Jackson said. “I think it’s something everyone should do and I enjoy giving back to my community.”

The branch, located in the Smylie Times Building at Roosevelt Boulevard and Rhawn Street, is convenient for Jackson because he said he lives “near the neighborhood.” John Henehan, another donor from Frankford, said the branch is convenient for him too. His first time donating was at the branch’s first blood drive of the holiday season in early November.

“This is my first time donating and I like it,” Henehan said. “I’m donating because I’m helping somebody else…and I’d appreciate it, too.”

The average donor donates one pint or unit of blood, though the maximum amount allowed is three.

MaryBeth Haslam-Houck, a frequent donor at the Northeast branch, could not attend the first drive of November. She donated platelets a few weeks prior and must abide by the Red Cross’ rule of donating once every 56 days.

“For some unknown reason, I have many more platelets than the average person [140,000 to 450,000 per microliter] and I am type O, which is very desirable because it’s universal,” Haslam-Houck said. “Also, I am usually able to give the maximum amount [of blood] without any trouble.”

Haslam-Houck said she also lives “near the neighborhood” of the branch. Due to its proximity, she said there is no reason why she should not donate as much blood as she can without risk, considering the highly desirable blood makeup she has. Platelets, in particular, can be used to help patients with various cancers and clotting disorders.

“It’s not every day that you get to help save someone’s life. That’s exactly what you are doing when you donate blood or blood products,” Haslam-Houck said. “I certainly hope that in the awful case that I needed a transfusion, there would be blood available for me.”

She has donated blood since she was 17 years old and platelets for the past year. She said she does not plan on stopping any time soon.

“I will continue to donate until I pass the age limit for doing so,” Haslam-Houck said. “Donating blood or blood products is one of the easiest ways you can be an ‘everyday hero.’”

The Northeast branch is responsible for collecting 20-25 units of blood per day. The Penn-Jersey region, of which the Northeast branch belongs, is responsible for collecting 1,200 units per day, but that is not enough.

“Our region uses approximately 2,000 units of blood per day, so we’re short 800 units daily” said Anthony Tornetta, regional communications manager of the Penn-Jersey region.  “The Red Cross has 36 different blood regions across the country and we have the ability to import blood from other regions simply because we don’t collect enough blood to meet our hospitals needs on our own.”

Not collecting enough may seem like a bad thing, but Tornetta is not shaken by it.

“That’s not a slight on our region. We do a great job of maintaining a stable supply here,” Tornetta said. “If you think about the hospitals and universities here in our region, whether it’s Temple [University], University of Pennsylvania or La Salle [University], and the teaching hospitals that they have, that’s where a lot of those 800 units go…towards the teaching side of things.”

Whether used for teaching needs or not, the blood is needed. Every two seconds, someone in the country needs blood and more than 38,000 blood donations are needed each day.  Many of the 30 million blood components that are transfused each year are used for either medical or emergency needs.

Though Henehan is a first time donor, he visited the Northeast branch before for a medical procedure.

“I was here once last year [because] I had my leg done,” Henehan said. “I had to get a couple pints of blood in case I needed blood for my leg…and it was useful.”

The branch is swamped with patients with medicals needs on a constant basis. On Mondays, it is closed to the public, only serving those with upcoming surgeries.

“It can be fairly busy. Our busiest days are Tuesdays and weekends because of it,” said Bernice Berry, senior manager of operations at the Northeast branch. “Tuesdays and the weekends catch all of the backlash.”

The backlash, however, is wanted. With the amount of donations needed per day for people suffering from various health problems—including HIV/AIDS, cancer, sickle cell anemia, transplants, open heart surgeries and accidents—the more donations given, the better.

Each pint of blood donated can save up to three lives.

With Haslam-Houck’s absence, Jackson and Henehan were two of only four donors to participate in the blood drive. With its hours occurring during most school hours and being held during one of the coldest weeks of the season thus far, 12 percent of the drive’s anticipated donors, high school and college students, did not attend. Tornetta said the closer the holiday season is, the less students think about donating blood, unless blood drives are held on school campuses.

When situations that like occur, Tornetta encourages the employees at the Northeast branch, as well as the employees at the seven other branches in his region, to host more blood drives throughout the season and to continuously promote joyful experiences for donors during their sessions.

“One of our main jobs is to provide a comfortable setting for those that come in and donate something of themselves,” Tornetta said. “At our blood drives…it’s always cool and comfortable. We also encourage people to schedule appointments [in order to] cut down on their wait time and provide them with a better overall experience.”

“Let’s face it. If you have a poor experience, you’re less likely to come back and donate. So we really want to make donors comfortable and encourage them to come back. We need it.”

With the numerous outstanding reasons of why people should donate blood, one stands out the most: it’s free of cost.

“Nowadays, the economy’s tough. People really still want to give back, but financially, they don’t have the money to give back right now,” Tornetta said. “This is a way for you to give back without reaching into your wallet. [Instead,] you’re just looking at your watch and taking an hour of your time.”

“Why not?,” Henehan said. “It’s free and I’m helping somebody else.”

“It’s costing me nothing to save other lives.”

Pamela Seaton is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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