MARQUETTE – The need for blood never goes away.
And the U.P. Regional Blood Center – which supplies Marquette General Hospital and 12 other hospitals across the peninsula – has had a particularly difficult time, during a particularly difficult winter, keeping an adequate supply.
“We’ve experienced cancelled blood drives and cold and ice, and of course people get sick this time of year,” said Sallie Coron, coordinator of blood collection at the U.P. Regional Blood Center. “I think this year’s been a lot tougher than I’ve seen in past years. Usually we see a big drop right after the holidays – because we don’t get a lot of people during the holidays – but we’re able to recover. This time we weren’t able to recover.”
After a couple days last week with a good number of donors coming in, Coron said they’re starting to make the comeback, though they remain in low supply of the rarer blood types: Types O and A negative, as well as A positive, are still lacking.
The cold is definitely a factor. A couple of weeks ago, the blood center’s mobile donation unit – which travels across the U.P. holding blood drives that account for 75 percent of the center’s annual supply – trekked to the Copper Country, only to find that a state of “civil emergency,” declared due to cold temperatures and relentless snow, caused poor turnout.
On another recent journey, the mobile unit was forced to turn back from a scheduled blood drive at a high school in Sault Ste. Marie when inclement weather cancelled school for the day.
“We need people to donate every day – every day,” Coron said. “We need at least 50 blood donations a day throughout the U.P. to maintain our blood supply.”
Those blood drives that collect three-quarters of the center’s supply are conducted only by the regional blood center, Coron said, and are different from the regular collections which take place at the center’s four satellite facilities throughout the U.P.
“A blood drive is planned. We have a coordinator on the other end, a volunteer coordinator, actually, who helps us set the date,” she said. “We send them information, promotional equipment and they actually secure the donors for us from a base that we’ve already established.”
Coron said the blood center collects about 12,000 pints of blood a year and about 7,000 packs of platelets. All of the blood collected in the U.P. stays here. It’s partly a matter, she said, of U.P. pride.
“We want to be self-sufficient,” she said. “Collected in the U.P., keep it in the U.P. So it’s very important that people realize that we want to be able to keep the blood here and collect the blood here.”
Coron said that only about 3 percent to 5 percent of the population donates blood, and that if they can encourage more people to donate regularly, they’d be better insulated from these fluctuations in supply.
“If we could get people into the habit of coming in every eight weeks, we’d probably prevent these highs and lows that we experience throughout the year,” she said.
The blood center does have quite a bit of success with public outreach efforts, relying more and more on social media like Facebook and Twitter to get the message out.
“It seems to me the best way to contact the public this time around was Facebook actually,” she said.
One woman, 23-year-old Alysha Pomeroy, found herself at Marquette’s blood center as a first-time donor last Thursday. Pomeroy said she learned about the need for blood from a sign while visiting her grandmother in the hospital.
“I’m going into nursing, so this is kind of an important thing to me – it’s an important thing to everybody,” she said. “And having my grandma in the hospital right now, I just figured I could come in and help while I’m around.”
To give blood, potential donors must be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds, be in a generally good state of health, have eaten within a couple hours prior to attempting to donate and bring photo identification with them.
Coron also wanted to express her gratitude to the public for their response to periods of urgent need in the community.
“I’d like to thank the public that’s already come in, responded to our need,” she said. “That’s very important. I think they know that we want to thank them for supporting our cause and coming in and giving us a hand.”
For more information about the blood center, donations and current blood type needs, visit www.mgh.org/blood.