By Tom Layou
If you feel like you have superfluous blood flowing through your veins right now, that’s because you do, and with it, you might help a person in medical need.
January is Blood Donation Awareness month, and to discuss the ease and necessity of local donations, I was able to speak with the Chief Executive Officer of Blood Bank of Alaska, Bob Scanlon.
What is the importance of local donation?
The importance of local donation has to do with saving lives throughout the state of Alaska. It starts locally and builds out to the rest of the state.
The idea of donating blood probably sounds uncomfortable for some people. What are some basics about donating blood people might not know?
Well I guess the first thing is don’t worry about the fact that you’re going to be donating blood. A lot of people get, you know, mired down in the idea that they’re going to have a needle involved and all that. We make the experience very comfortable. It’s a very quick and safe experience and it’s one where you are saving lives. Each donation that we collect has the potential of saving three lives.
What are some of the things you do to make the experience comfortable?
Well, you know, we have good conversation. But also the fact of the matter is our staff are very very professional in their approach, they are experts at phlebotomy. They make it so that they do everything they can to make the donor comfortable so that it is a good experience for them.
Are there restrictions about who can donate?
That’s an interesting question. Roughly 37 percent of the population in Alaska is actually eligible to donate. Approximately 2 percent do donate. There are a lot of people who can donate, they just need to remember the importance of donation.
I don’t mean for this to be a silly question, but Alaska does have a high rate of cannabis consumption. Are consumers of cannabis eligible to donate blood?
We don’t ask that question. What we’re concerned with is that we have a willing volunteer donor who is not impaired in any way.
How well stocked does the Blood Bank of Alaska tend to stay and how much does that fluctuate?
It fluctuates throughout the year, it depends on what time of year it is, of course. This time of the year, it’s a tough time of year for us. You know, it’s cold outside, people have to make an effort to come to the blood center. We’re very very appreciative to all of our donors throughout the state who come to the Blood Bank to donate, especially our donors who donate throughout the year. There are holiday heroes, but, you know, the holidays are over and now we’re just trying to get back up to speed and we need everyone’s help. So if an individual hasn’t donated and they’ve always wondered what it would be like, now is the time to give us a call, and if I may, you can reach us at (907) 222-5630, and one of our helpful staff members will be more than happy to make an appointment with you or answer any questions you may have. And, of course, we’re always open to walk-ins as well, so if you are driving by one of the Blood Banks and you decide just to stop in we will be very very grateful in taking the donation.
If you end up running low are there backup resources available, like from other states or anything?
Yes. So, blood banks are mutually supported and if you need, say you need a particular type of unit, generally we can see if that’s available out there, but typically it’s pretty tough. All these other communities throughout the country, they’re trying to ensure that they have an adequate inventory for their communities as well, so we have to be self-sufficient here and it’s the exception and not the rule to be able to do something like that, as far as importing blood from outside.
So that’s not the easiest avenue?
It’s not, no. The easiest avenue is Alaskans supporting other Alaskans. We want to be self-sufficient. We’re an Alaska-centric organization. We’re a 501-C3 non-profit organization, our sole mission in life is to ensure the blood supply for the state of Alaska. And Alaskans, for 57 years, have been there with us to assure the success of the blood bank. It’s Alaska infrastructure, serving Alaskans.
What is the hardest part of maintaining a good blood supply?
The hardest part is just making sure that we are reminding our donors to make appointments and come in, or to try to get new donors to come in, so that we can maintain the blood supply. People come to donate on their own time. You know, it’s time away from their families, they have to get in the car, they have to drive to the location. It takes a little bit of effort to go donate blood and we’re very very grateful for the fact that we have donors that are willing to do that. It is the closest opportunity many of us will have, to directly save another individual’s life. That blood that is donated will be used, and could potentially save three people, and it will save their life, and that’s as close as it gets for many of us, to being right there on scene, helping people.
What portion of the blood that’s donated is used?
We use about 90 percent of it.
Is there anything you care to add?
I just want to thank all of the blood donors who donate on a regular basis, and I want to thank Alaskans throughout the state who support the Blood Bank of Alaska, we couldn’t do it without ya.
The day after speaking with Bob Scanlon I went down to Blood Bank of Alaska to make a walk-in donation. After some reading materials, a 45-question exam deemed me a pretty eligible donor. There was one hang-up. The reading materials had some in-depth definitions of sexual contact and the questionnaire asked about males having sexual contact with other males, “even just once.” Like Iggy Pop, “I’m just a modern guy,” and don’t mind admitting it.
I was asked if I had been raped, because if I had been forced I would be an eligible donor. I hadn’t been. This question implies to me the issue isn’t entirely about safety. There are no questions about female donors having sexual contact with men, specifically, though it seems a high probability that happens. We’re also well into the 21st Century and I’ve heard people make jokes about sexual experimentation at summer camp and in college as long as I’ve been alive. If it’s important to have enough people donate blood it seems worth looking at a policy that sounds like it’s been hanging around since the Reagan Administration.
The Blood Bank of Alaska does exceedingly important work. There are two locations in Anchorage and several others throughout the state. It may be possible for you to help save someone’s life, and the only way to find out, is to register with the Blood Bank of Alaska.