Western Slope blood supply flows through St. Mary’s Regional Center
Blood is usually in short supply during the winter because of holidays, travel schedules, inclement weather and illness.
January, in particular, is a tough month for blood centers to find people willing to donate, said Jill Breman, donor recruiter at St. Mary’s Regional Blood Center, 750 Wellington Ave.
That’s why January has been declared National Blood Donor Awareness Month.
“People think of donating when there’s an accident or emergency, but all communities need blood donors all the time,” Breman said. “We need a constant supply to be sure we’re ready when it’s needed.”
Unfortunately, only 5 percent of Americans who are able to give blood actually do give blood, she said.
Organ transplant recipients, accident victims and people with cancer and other diseases across the U.S. need about 39,000 units of blood every day, according to the Association of Donor Recruitment Professionals.
Local demand for the vital fluid can be especially high.
Because St. Mary’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center is the only Level II Trauma Center on the Western Slope, patients with the most serious injuries from across the region are brought here.
Individuals with serious injuries from a major automobile accident can require 50 pints of blood or more, according to the American Red Cross.
Seriously burned patients can require 20 units or more.
To keep up with demand, St. Mary’s Blood Center collects, stores and distributes about 15,000 units a year, Breman said.
Blood products are currently in good supply thanks to donors like Lonnie Shenold of Eckert, who has given 35 gallons and is the center’s No. 1 donor, she said.
Blood from St. Mary’s Regional Blood Center helps people across western Colorado and eastern Utah. In addition to serving St. Mary’s trauma, surgical and cancer patients, the center provides the blood needed at most of the region’s smaller hospitals, she said.
Healthy bone marrow makes a constant supply of red cells, plasma and platelets. The body will replenish the elements given during a blood donation — some in a matter of hours and others in a matter of weeks.
Donors can give either whole blood or specific blood components only. The process of donating specific blood components — red cells, plasma or platelets — is called apheresis, Breman said.
Typically, two or three of these are produced from a pint of donated whole blood. In that way, each donation of a single pint can help save up to four lives, she said.
Donated red blood cells must be used within 42 days of collection, platelets within five days and plasma can be frozen for up to one year, but the limited shelf life of the red stuff means supplies must be continuously replenished, Breman said.
First-time and regular donors are encouraged to make a difference by giving blood every January, and regularly thereafter, she said.
The whole process takes 45 minutes or less.
“When you come in to donate, you will complete a short, confidential health information questionnaire,” Breman said.
Donors must be 18 or older — 16 or 17 with parents’ permission. They must be in good health and weigh at least 112 pounds clothed. Donors cannot have given blood in the past eight weeks.
A center employee will take blood pressure, pulse and temperature. Hemoglobin, or red blood cell count, will be measured from a small blood sample, Breman said.
One of the biggest reasons people cite for declining to donate is pain from the needle used to draw blood, she said.
“I understand. I was afraid to donate, too, but when I finally did, I found out how simple and easy it actually is,” she said.
“It’s safe. It’s fast. It’s the easiest way we know to actually save a life.”