Jeff Miller, a 52-year-old Chatham resident, has been donating blood since the late 1980s. He started while working for the Jacksonville Police Department when his sergeant asked him if he wanted to donate, and he did so regularly until moving to Springfield to join the Springfield Fire Department.
He recalls a time when his unit was called out for medical assistance to an auto salvage yard where a man in his early 20s whose arm had nearly been severed by a shearing machine had lost a tremendous amount of blood. "Right then, I got back into giving," said Miller, who has donated for 25 years. "It's not something you can go out and order from Amazon," said Miller. "It has to come from another human being."
Blood is a perishable product and cannot be stored for times of the year when donations are slower, such as the winter and summer months. Red blood cells must be used within 56 days and platelets within five days.
"Across our entire service region, we need to collect 3,500 donations every week to keep pace with patient needs," said Kirby Winn, public relations manager for Central Illinois Community Blood Center.
Cancer treatment is the most common reason for a blood transfusion, with about 20% of all donations going to cancer patients. Other needs include surgery, trauma and anemia. Donors may give whole blood, platelets, double red cells or plasma.
While there is a need for donations of all blood types, the greatest need is for O-negative red blood cells and AB plasma because these blood types are universal, or can be transfused to patients of all blood types. O-negative red blood cells and AB plasma are frequently used in emergency settings when a unit of blood must be transfused before the patient's blood type is known.
Karol Young of Springfield and her husband are both regular donors. Now 62, Karol started donating in 1990 and said when she began donating she didn't know anyone with cancer. Since then, her mother, father and four-month-old great-nephew have been diagnosed with cancer. "It reinforces why I continue to do this," said Young, who donates platelets. Even when she and her husband winter in Florida, they continue to donate through a hospital there.
"It doesn't cost you anything to donate," she continued. "It could be a family member, best friend or neighbor who needs it."
Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center serves 110 hospitals throughout Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin and is the exclusive provider of blood components and related services to Memorial Medical Center and HSHS St. John's Hospital in Springfield. MVRBC has more than 100,000 donors and is able to collect more than 180,000 whole blood donations and approximately 30,000 platelet and apheresis donations annually. To donate, donors must be at least 17 years old (or 16, with parental permission) and weigh at least 110 pounds. Donors can give whole blood every 56 days.
Approximately 38% of the population is eligible to donate, but only about 10% of the eligible population does. "The biggest reason people have for not donating is fear of the unknown," said Winn. "However, once people learn about the process and give it a try, their apprehension decreases."
Even though she has a fear of needles, Springfield resident Cindy Moreno has been donating blood for 47 years, beginning when she was a 17-year-old senior in high school. "Our Key Club group held a blood drive," she said. She admits she didn't feel well afterwards, but that hasn't kept her from being a regular donor.
"The Springfield Donor Center helped me find out I was exposed to West Nile virus," the 55-year-old said, who credits her mother, a nurse, with instilling in her the importance of helping people in need. Not only is she a blood donor, but her name is on the bone marrow registry and she is registered to be an organ donor. "I'm a healthy individual," said Moreno. "Why wouldn't I help someone in need?"
While there is no upper age limit for blood donation, many donors stop or reduce the frequency of their donations after age 75. More than 50% of total donors are between the ages of 45 and 64, which is also the demographic representing the most frequent donors. Winn attributed this to a function of lifestyle, noting that unlike people in their 20s and 30s who are spending time caring for children and becoming established in their careers, people age 50 and older are established in their work and routines and have time to give back to the community and often look for opportunities to volunteer and help others.
"For those eligible to give, blood donation can be a great way to support the needs of the community," said Winn.
Roberta Codemo is a frequent writer for Illinois Times. She works as a donor scheduler at the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center.