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VOL. 128 | NO. 41 | Thursday, February 28, 2013

Donor Recognition

Lifeblood celebrates 50th anniversary by honoring those who give

By Michael Waddell

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For more than 50 years, Lifeblood has served an invaluable function to the local community by working with hospitals to meet the constant demand for clean units of blood to be used for traumas and other surgeries.

Andrea Howard takes a donation of whole blood from Hoke Robinson at Lifeblood's Madison Avenue donor center. The organization is celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

(Photos: Lance Murphey)

The nonprofit community service organization is a viable independent blood center, one of about 100 similar independent blood centers across the country that serve their local communities.

To highlight its 50th year, Lifeblood is celebrating the efforts of its blood donors.

“In our 50th year, we are hitting the streets to sit down with folks to thank them for supporting the community blood center and talk with them about how we are working to get better every day collecting exactly what the hospitals need for their patients,” said Lifeblood vice president of donor relations Jennifer Balink, who is a three-gallon (24-pint) donor herself.

She expects less of a splashy 50th anniversary campaign this year and more of a grassroots outreach through the community to help people understand what it means to have a community blood center. Lifeblood hopes to connect with people in the community on a one-on-one level and explain what it can mean if they educate their congregations, employees, students and/or faculty.

Most independent blood centers across the country sprung up around 50 years ago. Before then, many hospitals collected blood in their own donor centers for their patients.

“The hospitals here decided in 1963 that it would be in the community’s best interest to have an independent effort that was collaborative among all of the hospitals to collect blood from volunteer donors to provide for patients,” Balink said.

The center was originally chartered as the Mid-South Regional Blood Plan, and eventually began doing business as simply Lifeblood in the late 1970s.

About 300 units (or pints) are used in the community every day, while only 160 units are donated per day. So Lifeblood is constantly looking to other communities that have more donors than patients to help make up the difference.

“We have a lower participation rate and a higher usage rate than most other places in the country, so it is a challenge for us,” Balink said. “If we could just get a few more people to understand the importance of donating blood and get the people who already made the commitment to donating to come in just one more time each year, we would be in a much better position to serve the local patients.”

Red cells in the lab at Lifeblood await distribution to local hospitals. The organization is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. 

Locally there are approximately 28,000 donors who donate roughly 48,000 units of whole blood or platelets per year. With an overall population in the area of more than 1.2 million, less than 3 percent of the population donates blood, well below the national average of more than 6 percent.

Lifeblood runs five donor centers, including locations in Midtown, East Memphis, Germantown, Bartlett and Southaven that collected an estimated 45 percent of the overall amount of blood donated. Mobile units consisting of five Lifeblood buses and three “inside set-ups” collect the remaining 55 percent.

“We can set up chairs and equipment inside gymnasiums, cafeterias or conference rooms – inside a business, school or church – creating a blood center for a few hours,” Balink said.

Lifeblood limits each donation to one unit per visit, and donors are only allowed to donate every eight weeks. The average person has eight to nine units of blood in his or her body.

All blood that is transfused to patients in the U.S. must come from an unpaid donor. Blood from paid donors, such as at plasma centers, is used for research purposes.

Lifeblood currently employs a staff of more than 150.

“We are very careful about the staff that we hire and train to make sure they are very skilled on the technical side in order to make it safe and as comfortable and pleasant as possible for our donors,” Balink said.

Next up, Lifeblood will hold a St. Patrick’s Day-themed blood drive at the University of Memphis March 5-6 and have the opportunity to show their brand new Alyx machines in action, which extract only red blood cells.

During the second week of June, Lifeblood will hold its fourth annual Donor Fest culminating in a large community event at Audubon Park June 15.

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