- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

All week we’ve been seeing red except where it matters most — at the local blood banks.

The blood supply is so low that Inova Blood Donor Services recruiters are putting up all sorts of prizes just to get folks to part with a few precious drops.

Each donation, or one pint of blood, has the potential to save three lives.

IBDS gave out flowers, candy and gift cards for Valentine’s Day to anyone who donated blood. On Sunday, it is scheduled to hold a blood drive in Wheaton under the rubric of Black History Month to generate more minority donors.

However, last weekend’s snow kept away valuable donors. Will frigid temperatures present a problem this weekend?

“We are desperate to have our blood supply near our community but find that is not happening. I’ve been hired to increase our donors, and we’re starting with the African-American community,” said Teri Scott, who is charged with the initiative to increase the number of blood donations by blacks in the Washington area.

The region’s blood supply “needs to reflect the people living in it,” she said.

The community outreach worker, who was hired in January, said blacks “give less than 3 percent of the total supply … but use more blood than they are actually giving.” Blacks are not alone. Based on IBDS statistics, although 60 percent of the general population is eligible, fewer than 5 percent donate blood.

The not-for-profit health systems organization chose February, which is Black History Month, to target black donors “so we could heighten awareness about the plight of African-American patients and their need for blood,” Ms. Scott said.

There are many reasons people don’t donate as often, she said, including fear of needles and the fear that if you have high blood pressure or diabetes you can’t donate blood. But if those conditions are under control with medication, diet and exercise, you can, she said.

Another big fear is the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS through needles. “But we use new needles, new tubing for everybody,” Ms. Scott said. She dispelled another myth about payment for donations, which are prohibited by federal law.

IBDS supplies blood and blood products (plasma and platelets) for 15 hospitals throughout the D.C. area.

“Demographics dictate that we go after African-Americans first and then extend [our outreach] to Hispanics,” Ms. Scott said.

More compatible blood comes from people in the same ethnic groups, she said. But, “people who need multiple transfusions often build up antibodies to things in their blood.” So more blood is needed.

Ms. Scott estimates that 1,000 people 21 and younger in this area have sickle-cell anemia.

“Compatible blood allows the children to live a longer, healthier life,” said Ms. Scott, who works in IBDS’ Sterling, Va., office.

Sickle-cell anemia is when round, whole blood cells turn into a sickle shape. They band together and block oxygen to certain parts of the body. Complications may include strokes, even in very young children, and intense pain.

Although Ms. Scott’s mission is to recruit more minority donors, the organization needs blood from every segment of the population.

Every day in our country, about 38,000 units of blood are required in hospitals and emergency facilities.

Because of last weekend’s snowfall, IBDS had to cancel several area blood drives and now faces a severe shortage. It needs to collect roughly 200 units each day to meet demand. The whole procedure takes about an hour.

“It’s imperative that people of all races donate and donate regularly. … There is a critical need for blood,” Ms. Scott said.

As added incentive, anyone who donates during the Black History Month drive will be entered to win tickets to “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” playing at Arena Stage next month, and dinner for two at B. Smith’s at Union Station.

“We hope that people will consider volunteering to giving blood to help their friends, their neighbors, their families and themselves,” Ms. Scott said.

The Help Honor National African American History Month and the Afro-Latino Connection (El Encuentro de Culturas) blood drive will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday on the lower level of Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton, 11160 Viers Mill Road, in the IBDS Bloodmobile.

Donors should call to ahead to make appointments at 866/BLOODSAVE. More information is available at www.inova.org/donateblood.

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