Lifeblood Works to Ensure Summer Blood Supply

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

Growing up, David Wiemar can remember his father answering the phone in the middle of the night to go donate blood at the local children’s hospital in Birmingham, Ala. He’s continued that tradition and also shared it with his son, Charles Wiemar.

David Wiemar, right, is a regular Lifeblood donor and has made 142 donations. His son, Charles, has given 45 donations.

David Wiemar, who owns Wiemar’s Jewelry Store on Stage Road in Bartlett with his wife, Donna, has donated whole blood 142 times, and his son, Charles, has given 45 donations. Both Wiemars are regular donors at Lifeblood, the Memphis area’s only nonprofit blood center.

Both Wiemars would like to give more frequently, but whole blood donation requires a 56-day waiting period between each donation.

“This is part of what I do for the community,” Wiemar said. “As long as the community keeps giving to me, I am going to keep giving back to it.”

Jennifer Balink, Lifeblood’s vice president of donor relations, says the area’s blood supply begins to decline at the beginning of the summer when college students return home for the summer. About one-fourth of the area’s blood supply comes from college students, a trend that also is common across the nation.

Four years ago, Lifeblood began holding its largest blood drive at the beginning of the summer to ensure the local blood supply stays strong throughout the summer, Balink said. This year, Lifeblood is seeking 1,963 units of blood in honor of the year the nonprofit was founded. The event, DonorFest 2013, runs through Saturday, June 15, at all of Lifeblood’s donor centers, which also will stay open extended hours.

“We established this weeklong blood drive to increase the community blood supply at a time when it is critically needed,” Balink said. “DonorFest is one way to fill the shelves at a time when they are typically empty.”

Who can give?

• Must be 17 years old to donate, or 16 with parental consent

• Donors must weigh at least 115 pounds and be generally healthy

• To check other reasons you may be asked to delay your donation or refrain from giving you can read more here:

On Saturday, DonorFest will culminate at an Audubon Park celebration from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to honor donors and their families. The celebration will include music, magic shows, balloon animals, face painting, rock climbing and moon bounces.

Balink said Memphis is one of the metropolitan areas in the nation where the area blood supply is not self-sufficient. The city relies on other communities that draw more blood donations than their local patients need.

“We’ve been pushing over a period of time to help the community understand what it would mean for us to be self-sufficient,” she said. “The No. 1 issue is community safety and being prepared in the event of an emergency. If we had a sudden increase in our need, we would be dependent on other communities who have excess supply on their shelves.”

Blood is perishable and must be constantly replenished. The shelf life of a unit of blood is 42 days, and platelets last five days – but many patients have requirements for blood that is fresher. The U.S. also relies on a volunteer blood supply, which means that blood and plasma collected at paid centers can only be used for research purposes, not for patients. Balink said most of the blood collected in Memphis is used within one week.

Wiemar, who has Type O-negative blood, says he finds donating especially rewarding because his blood cells can be used by all patients. He made his first donation at age 18 and plans to continue donating for as long as he meets the blood donation requirements.

Nationwide, about 5 percent of the population donates blood on a regular basis. In Memphis, that figure is closer to 2 to 3 percent.

“What’s a pint of blood?” Wiemar said.