High schools offer fertile grounds for blood donors

By Andy Hobbs, Mirror editor

I donated blood just once, at age 17.

Our high school’s student council was holding its annual blood drive. I signed up after minimal persuasion by a gorgeous cheerleader who recruited fellow students earlier that month.

About 20 minutes before my scheduled appointment, the red-headed girl sitting in front of me leaned back with a strange grimace on her face and started to moan. Only the whites of her eyes showed, as if possessed by a demon. She fell off her desk chair and onto the floor, fainting after losing a pint of blood before class.

Despite that mildly disturbing appetizer and a squeamish outlook, I survived the blood donation, even if that needle seemed like the size of a soda straw. I never gave much thought as to who would benefit from my blood — and I haven’t donated blood since.

Sadly, I’m in the majority. According to Puget Sound Blood Center, Federal Way and South King County boast roughly 13,000 active donors, or about 8 percent of the area’s population. Minorities comprise less than 1 percent of the center’s donor pool, statistics show.

This blood supply serves most patients in Western Washington who need transfusions. As baby boomers enter their retirement years, demand will increase and strain the blood supply. Baby boomers represent Puget Sound Blood Center’s largest group of “career donors.” They must be replaced with the next generation of donors ages 21-40, which is a much smaller slice of the population.

In addition, much of the Federal Way area’s future growth is expected to come from non-Caucasians. Most people can accept blood donations based simply on blood type, but blood center officials say certain ethnic groups require an exact match of antigens specific to their racial heritage.

Blood banks across the state, and perhaps nationwide, need more of those regular career donors who shed a pint of blood every 56 days. Perhaps there’s no better place to recruit career donors than at high schools.

My high school experience didn’t turn me into a regular donor, but then again, the blood banks in my hometown may not have tried hard enough.

Cascade Regional Blood Services sets a good example by partnering with high schools and colleges. Those students represent about 25 percent of the organization’s donations. In fact, Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way regularly ranks near the top of Cascade’s high school blood donor list. Cascade works with Beamer’s leadership class and reels in first-time donors in triple digits.

The key for blood banks is familiarizing students on the virtues of donating blood by maintaining a regular presence. Blood banks can also reach minority groups through these high school donation drives. It may be wishful thinking to expect students to keep it up over a lifetime, but it is realistic to hope teens can influence their peers to hop the blood donor bandwagon, if only for a short ride.

Make an impression early in a person’s life, and it will last for life. Much like planting a seed, timing and persistent nurturing will help local blood banks thrive as they grow a young base of new donors.

Andy Hobbs can be reached at editor@fedwaymirror.com

or (253) 925-5565.

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