Since September 2004, Kathy Boxmeyer had a standing date, donating platelets every two weeks at the American Red Cross’ blood donation center at 176 Robert St. Her motivation is pure—her late husband, longtime St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Don Boxmeyer, who had a liver and kidney transplant in May 2004. “He took [blood], and I’m giving back,” Boxmeyer says. (Last fall, Kathy Boxmeyer discovered she has TRALI, transfusion related acute lung injury, which means that while she can no longer donate platelets, she can continue to donate whole blood).
Volunteer Gordy Kircher has donated platelets since about 1990. “To help saves lives is the easy answer,” Kircher says of his commitment. After he was treated for prostate cancer five years ago, Kircher had to take a break from donating, so the retired 3M employee turned his energy to volunteering at the Red Cross, where he is a donor ambassador, community outreach and volunteer recruitment specialist, and home fire-preparedness volunteer.
Kircher encourages other people to volunteer and donate, noting that only 38 percent of the general population is eligible to donate blood, and the percentage of donors is only in the single digits. “It’s critical,” he says. “The need is constant,” confirms Sue Thesenga, external communications manager for the ARC. “Donated blood products are perishable. Red blood cells have a shelf life of only 42 days, and platelets [a key clotting component of blood] just five days, so they must constantly be replenished.” This time of year presents a special challenge for the Red Cross. “Inclement weather and seasonal flu can prevent many regular donors from giving,” Thesenga says.
Boxmeyer rarely misses her donation date. For two and a half hours, she sits in a recliner, some days settling in with blankets and heating pads. “I feel like I’m at the spa,” she says. “I’m not kidding. I just try not to fall asleep. I just contemplate life.” Not everyone is as relaxed about donating as Boxmeyer. “Many people have fears about donating or are afraid of needles, but find that they can still give blood,” Thesenga says. “What most say is that the slight, initial pinch pales in comparison to the feeling of accomplishment they get at the end of a successful donation.” She recommends that donors bring distractions, including a music player or reading materials, engage staff in conversation or just close their eyes and relax. “Many donors enjoy donating with a friend, both for the moral support and for celebrating the good they’ve done together,” she says. “We love ‘blood buddies.’ ”
Once blood is donated, it is transported to the Red Cross laboratory, where it is separated into its different components. “It undergoes a variety of tests to ensure it’s as safe as possible,” Thesenga says. “After testing, blood is shipped where it is needed, when it is needed.” In this region alone, the Red Cross supplies blood products to 106 hospitals and to nearly 70 percent of the Twin Cities-area hospitals—thanks to donors like Kircher and Boxmeyer. “For me it’s very rewarding,” Boxmeyer says. “It makes my life complete. It makes me feel like I’m doing it for Don.”
- The Red Cross in Minnesota is celebrating 100 years of service.
- The Red Cross provides approximately 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply from donations from millions of volunteer blood donors across the U.S.
- The Red Cross North Central blood services region must collect an average of 1,000 blood donations every day to meet the demand.
- Type O positive is the most common blood type. It can be transfused to Rh-positive patients of any blood type.
- Type O negative blood can be transfused to patients of any blood type, and it is what emergency room personnel reach for when there is no time to determine a patient’s blood type.
- Whole blood (red blood cells) is the most common type of donation.
- For more information on volunteering with the Red Cross, visit the website, or call the North Central Blood Services, Volunteer Resources Department, at 651.291.3360.