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Red Cross holds annual blood drive

April 5, 2007

Every day, blood and blood products are used to help people in serious medical need. Thanks to the Red Cross and students at UW-River Falls, enough blood is provided to save hundreds of lives.

Every few months, the Red Cross holds a Blood Drive on campus, giving students, faculty and interested community members the opportunity to donate. Students are notified through posters, residence hall staff members and campus-wide e-mails. Interested individuals are also needed to volunteer their time if they aren’t eligible to donate.

To be eligible, donors must be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health, meaning not suffering from a cold or recovering from surgery. It’s also important for donors to get a good night’s sleep, drink plenty of fluids and eat a good meal within two to three hours of donating, according to the Red Cross’ Web site.

Many factors can disqualify a person from donating blood. Traveling to certain countries overseas, depending upon the amount of time spent there, types of foods consumed or diseases that could have been potentially contracted, can disqualify a donor.

Recent tattoos or body piercing might also cause donors to be deferred, due to hepatitis concerns.

Student Sara Axelson was disappointed that she wasn’t eligible to donate.

“I just got a tattoo, and I have really low iron,” Axelson said. “But if I could do it, I would.”

Most deferrals, like Sara’s, are temporary. Potential donors can check the Red Cross’ Web site for a full list of disqualifications. At the beginning of a donation session, a Red Cross staff member will do a brief checkup, getting a brief medical history and taking blood pressure, temperature and a small blood sample to test iron levels. At this time, any other disqualifying factors would be discovered.

If everything seems satisfactory, the donation itself takes only a short time, depending upon how quickly staff members are moving people through. The most reliable way to guarantee a swift donation is to make an appointment; however, walk-ins are always welcome.

Kim Pliska, a student and habitual donor, said it doesn’t take long to donate and is fairly painless.

“It’s a fast, easy way to do something good,” Pliska said. “The worst part is at the beginning, when they prick your finger. It’s really the only part that hurts.”

After donating, whole blood is sent to a laboratory for testing and separation into its three components: red cells, which are proteins that contain iron and give blood its red color; platelets, which helps blood clot, and plasma, the liquid that carries blood throughout the body.

Each component can be shipped to hospitals as needed and used for different purposes. Accident victims can require four to 100 units of red blood cells, while severe burn patients generally need up to eight units of plasma. The amount of blood given in one donation has the potential to save up to three lives.

It’s the idea of helping people in need that prompted student Katie Besch to donate, despite her nerves.

“I think it’s a good idea … because it is for a good cause,” Besch said.

It’s this attitude that gives UWRF one of the highest participation rates out of all schools that work with the Red Cross. 

Kurran Sagan, recreational leadership coordinator, works with the Red Cross to bring the Blood Mobile to campus. UWRF consistently turns out high participation numbers, he said.

“Usually all the volunteer staff is students for the check-in table, the canteen, general set-up and clean-up, and about 90 percent of all the donators are students,” Sagan said. “The Red Cross always counts on River Falls to have a high turnout rate and produce a lot of units of blood.”

Donor Recruitment Representative Joel Kramer has worked at the Red Cross for many years and has worked with Sagan at UWRF for nearly five. Throughout these years, UWRF has always been remarkable, he said.

“It’s an outstanding school with tremendous involvement,” Kramer said. “Out of the 40 or 50 colleges that the Red Cross works with, River Falls is at least in the top five.”

Back in November, a two-day drive for all blood types was held. During that drive alone, the units donated exceeded expectations, Kramer said. The goals were set at 100 units per day, but students at UWRF “blew those numbers away,” turning out 126 units the first day and 144 the second.

In February, a drive was held only for blood type “O” donors. Again, the goal was met and exceeded.

For this drive, the goals were bumped up to 125 units per day, and he is confident that the goal will be met and surpassed, Kramer said.

With 356 units already collected and an anticipated 250 on the way, that puts UWRF in the 600 to 700-unit range, nearly matching Winona State University, the University consistently ranked number one in blood donation.

UWRF students should be proud of their involvement, Kramer said. “It’s pretty impressive.”