CROSBY — Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.
Surgeries, cancer treatments, chronic illnesses and traumatic injuries all contribute to the high need for blood donations across the country.
One donation of blood can save up to three lives.
Right now, the American Red Cross is in a critical need situation for blood donations, according to the organization. Winter is a historically challenging time to collect blood and platelet donations because of holidays, weather and seasonal illnesses. The Red Cross has less than a three-day supply of type O blood, which is in the highest demand.
Five sisters did their part last week to help the crisis situation, potentially saving up to 15 lives.
Joyce Moore of Crosby orchestrated a family outing with her four sisters to donate blood Friday, Jan. 10, at the Hallett Community Center in Crosby. Even more powerful is the fact all the sisters have type O blood, and at least four of them are O-negative, which is the universal donor and, accordingly, the most needed blood type.
“I think it’s an important thing, a very important thing,” Moore said Friday afternoon before getting ready for her 12th blood donation to date. She sat among her sisters Diane Rorvig, Barbara Bertolas, Loretta Rasmussen and Sharon Bourgeois, all lakes area residents except for Bertolas, who lives in Colorado but came into town for a family visit.
Bertolas knows she has type O blood but isn’t sure if she’s positive or negative. The other four sisters are all O-negative, somewhat of a rarity, as only about 7% of the population is O-negative, according to the Red Cross.
“We need all types of blood, obviously, but type O-negative is especially important to us because in emergency situations when doctors don’t have time to type people, O-negative is the type that they reach for,” said Carrie Wiste, account manager for donor recruitment at the American Red Cross in St. Paul. “So we can never have enough of that on the shelves, and getting five donations at a single drive from sisters is quite a feat.”
Those who have O-negative can only receive O-negative, adding to the need. The most common blood type is O-positive, flowing through the veins of about 37% of people. Those with O-positive can receive either O-positive or O-negative, but not any other types, meaning donations of both types of O blood are in high demand.
“If it was one of our family members in that situation, where they came into the ER and needed blood and there wasn’t any available, that would be horrible,” Moore said.
“Yeah, that’s a horrible thought,” Rorvig added. “And that’s why I started donating. I’ve donated years ago, several times. I don’t have a number, but that was my instigation for getting involved because, being O-negative, I knew I was the universal donor.”
Friday’s blood donation was the first for Rasmussen.
“I’ve thought about doing it before but just never did it,” she said, noting she wasn’t really worried about anything.
The rest of the sisters had all donated before at one time or another.
“We love to be able to help others,” Moore said, noting three of them are nurses and they all see themselves as caregivers.
“I would have to say, I feel pretty good about doing this today,” Bourgeois said.
For many, though, perhaps a fear of needles or any number of other factors can be deterrents from donating blood. But Wiste challenges those who might be nervous to think about the positive impacts.
“I know that it’s scary for a lot of people, but if you think about what you’re giving back to the community — which is literally life-saving — I think it’s worth a moment of discomfort you experience when they insert a needle,” Wiste said.
During a typical blood donation, donors give both red and white blood cells, along with plasma and platelets. On Friday, Moore opted for a power red donation, meaning she donated two units of red blood cells with the help of a machine, which then returned her plasma and platelets. Red blood cells are the most frequently used blood component and are needed by almost every type of patient requiring a transfusion, according to the Red Cross. Those with type O, A-negative or B-negative may be able to do a power red donation.
Platelet donations are needed as well, as cancer and cancer treatments can put patients at risk for low platelet counts, which can affect a person’s ability to produce healthy blood cells and stop bleeding during surgical procedures. Platelet donation uses a machine to extract just the platelets while returning the rest of the blood to a donor. This procedure results in more platelets than a typical blood donation. Donors cannot give platelets at a blood drive but must make an appointment at an American Red Cross Donation Center.
For more information on donating blood, visit https://rcblood.org/35MKgpX. To find a local blood drive, visit redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive. Several blood drives are available throughout the lakes area in the coming month. Good Samaritan Society-Bethany in Brainerd and First Lutheran Church in Aitkin have drives scheduled Friday, Jan. 17. Online donation slots are filled for the Brainerd drive, but those interested can call the Red Cross at 1-800-733-2676 for assistance.
As an added incentive, donors who give blood between Jan. 1-19 will be entered for a chance to win two tickets to this year’s Super Bowl in Miami. The prize package also includes entry to the official National Football League Tailgate, tickets to Super Bowl Experience at the Miami Beach Convention Center, round-trip airfare to Miami, three nights of hotel accommodations and a $500 gift card for expenses.
As the instigator of the family donation outing, Moore made sure her sisters knew if any of them happened to win, they had to take her.
The potential prize however, is definitely not what drove the sisters to Friday’s blood drive.
“You can save three people’s lives with your one donation,” Bourgeois said. “That’s pretty impressive.”