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An anemic blood donor program comes back to life.

An anemic blood donor program comes back to life

The mosquitoes had started to bite. The evening breeze off the Gulf was late, and sweat was soaking into my clothes. Once again--for the third time that week--I was sitting in the parking lot of a rural Florida bus station awaiting the arrival of a precious shipment of blood.

Fresh out of residency, now a brand new laboratory director, I hadn't thought to ask just how a 100-bed hospital got its blood. I naively assumed that, like everything else in the laboratory, you simply ordered more when the supply ran low. However, finding surplus blood in a state with more than its share of retirees and wintertime "snow birds' and having it shipped to a remote locale turned out to be almost as troublesome as the mosquitoes now hovering around my head.

The hospital used 800 units of red cells each year--about average for its size. Unfortunately, a somewhat anemic in-house donor program brought in barely 300 units. The hospital employees were good sports about helping bridge the 500-unit gap, but their enthusiasm--not to mention their complexions--began to pale after months of repeated donations.

Set up as part of the clinical laboratory, the blood donor center was open for business from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. weekdays. These hours were a bit optimistic, given an average daily volume of just one scheduled donor. When an occasional walk-in volunteer wandered down, one of the technologists would leave the bench to handle the draw. It's sad to say, but the blood donor program was only a minor disruption.

As it became increasingly difficult to keep the blood bank stocked, we started scavenging from distant blood centers and pleading for the rare surplus at other hospitals. Once blood was found, we had to work out the logistics of circuitous bus routes covering up to 120 miles. That's how I came to be sitting outside the bus terminal feeding the mosquitoes.

As one of the critters darted by for a quick snack, I pondered our sorry situation. Winters were especially hard, when the town's population tripled with the influx of temporary residents escaping the harsh Northern climate.

Even more depressing was the fact that only 3 per cent of all Americans donate blood regularly. However, given our 25-mile service area of 30,000 people, a 3 per cent rate could easily cover our annual blood needs. The problem was convincing the community to cooperate and thus become self-sufficient.

The solution to our predicament arrived unexpectedly in the guise of an energetic recent retiree named Fred. His enthusiasm was unparalleled, and he had organized blood drives during his career as a manager at a large New England company. Quickly bored by a retirement routine of tennis and golf, Fred turned up at the hospital asking if we needed a volunteer--maybe someone to help out with the blood donor program?

Amazed at our good fortune, we immediately named Fred our first-ever official donor recruiter. Our goal of getting 3 per cent of the community to donate didn't faze Fred a bit. He was sure our neighbors would respond once they realized the hospital's plight. Instead, Fred worried about how our small staff of seven laboratorians was going to cope with the sudden influx of donors he planned to bring in.

We knew we had to maintain a cordial and convenient donor policy --especially if we hoped to cultivate repeat donors. Rather than strain our limited resources on daily dribs and drabs, Fred suggested we go for a 12-hour donor blitz once a month and aim for 80 volunteers. That way, we could schedule the entire laboratory --all eight of us--to alternate phlebotomy and bench duties throughout the drive. It would be a hectic and grueling day, but everyone agreed that facing a major catastrophe once a month was far better than dealing with minor chaos every day.

According to Fred's plan, he and I would launch the project with a road trip, addressing local businesses, civic organizations, and churches. After briefly outlining the community's blood needs, our lack of self-sufficiency, and the mechanics of donating blood, we would ask the group to sponsor a blood drive. The hospital would provide all the technical personnel, equipment, and refreshments. The sponsoring organization need only arrange for the location and, of course, deliver the donors.

The response was overwhelming! Every single group we approached agreed to be a sponsor. Each sponsoring organization then began recruiting its 60 to 80 donors and signing them up in 20-minute appointment blocks. To supplement their efforts, we engineered a public service campaign, using the local radio stations and newspapers to publicize the drive--and sponsor it--and attract walk-in donors.

To keep the momentum going between blood drives, Fred suggested we set up a booth at community events. We could offer free blood typing and encourage participation for the next scheduled drive.

Once the roster was set, Fred shifted into high gear. He mobilized his fellow senior citizens to take to the phones and remind prospective donors of their pledge. Just to be safe, he also sent out a batch of postcards three days before the drive.

Fred's first blood drive was held in 1981. His volunteers were in place to take care of donor registration and pass out the post-donation refreshments. The technical staff would handle everything else. Four nurses were placed in charge of donor screening. This freed the seven technologists to either phlebotomize or hold down the fort at the lab. And, of course, I was on hand as the official physician.

The technologists' blood-drawing talents rivaled those of the parking lot mosquitoes, and the donors flowed smoothly. By the end of the day, a tired lab staff could take pride in the 71 units of blood cramming the blood bank refrigerator.

We did learn a few logistical lessons that would serve us well in future drives. For starters, we needed more orange juice and cheese Danish and less lemon Danish. (The prune Danish didn't move at all.) On the laboratory side, we found that three technologists could easily process four donors every 20 minutes, while a fourth technologist kept the lab running. The other three laboratorians were excused to work on either the evening or night shifts.

As the months went by, we repeated our initial success at each subsequent drive. The community was rolling up its collective sleeves and donating enough blood to meet its monthly needs. The sponsors--even some firms with just 10 employees--unfailingly delivered their 60 to 80 donors, calling on friends and relatives when necessary to meet the quota. And we were generally able to accept between 80 and 90 per cent of their volunteers.

Everyone's efforts paid off. In contrast to our anemic in-house program that was lucky to collect 300 units a year, the blood drive brought in 891 units of blood in its first 12 months. The total climbed to 1,100 units during the second full year.

Indeed, whereas the hospital staff once accounted for 80 per cent of all donations, the community was now providing 90 per cent of the necessary units. That doesn't mean we let the hospital employees off the hook. As a matter of fact, the hospital sponsors two of the 12 annual blood drives. We hold the drives six months apart--one for the day staff and one for the evening and night shifts. The rest of the time, we leave the employees alone.

Looking back, it's clear that the program never would have worked without three critical ingredients --a community willing to donate, a superb technical staff able to meet the challenge of processing them all, and Fred. It seems that the biggest losers from this pepped-up program were the mosquitoes. But I say let them start their own donor program!

Though I have since moved on to a larger hospital, I stay in touch and am happy to report that both the blood drives and Fred are doing just fine. We've launched a similar donor recruitment program here, and it is going well. And luckily, Fred only lives 100 miles away.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Barton, Thomas K.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Sep 1, 1987
Words:1355
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