Keesler Blood Donor Center saves lives

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Lisa Lynn isn't a vampire, but she has an insatiable thirst for blood.

As blood recruiter for the Keesler Blood Donor Center for nearly eight years, she's responsible for making sure the center meets its weekly quota of 60-70 units.  She's been in the blood business for 22 years.

From cancer patients to service members injured on the battlefield, blood is needed for many reasons.

The Keesler Blood Donor Center is on Meadows Drive in the Arnold Medical Annex behind the post office and tennis courts. It's one of only three Air Force blood donor centers in the U.S. and among 81 blood banks and blood donor centers worldwide. The center is part of the Armed Services Blood Program, a joint health agency that coordinates the blood programs of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

"The ABSP's mission is to provide quality blood products in peace and war time," explained Maj. Heidi McMinn, chief of the 19-member blood services team for the 81st Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron.  "We collect, process, store and transport blood products to ill or injured service members, veterans and their families worldwide. We provide a critical lifesaving mission for Keesler hospital patients, as well as those downrange.

"Anyone who receives blood in a combat area will receive blood through ASBP," she continued.  "Each product donated is critical when you consider one trauma victim may need 40 or more blood products.  The ASBP provides blood and blood products to deployed service members on the battlefield, onboard Navy casualty-receiving treatment ships, hospital ships and aircraft carriers."

The major said the blood center routinely receives requests that need to be filled immediately.

"It takes five to eight days for products to reach theater," she pointed out.  "So when a request comes out, we have to act on it as soon as we receive it.  We work with other military hospitals and blood donor centers when they experience increased demands to avoid critical shortages within our military blood system.  We also partner with local blood services and Veterans Affairs to maximize blood resources." 

Nearly every Monday, there's a drive in the Triangle to collect donations from student volunteers.

  During 36 drives in 2014, 1,815 units of blood were collected.  This week, Keesler's mobile team made a Florida road trip to Naval Air Station, Pensacola. 

Each week, about 45 units are sent to McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, for further processing and distribution and the other units are retained for use at Keesler Medical Center.

"One unit, roughly a pint of blood, can actually save three lives," said Lynn. "After blood is drawn from a donor, it's processed in a centrifuge about the size of a large washing machine and separated into its three main components - red blood cells, plasma and platelets."

Red blood cells spread oxygen throughout the body, while platelets are used for clotting. Plasma is the liquid portion of blood that transports the rest of the blood's cells. Different donating options yield different amounts of each product.

"Donating whole blood gives one unit of red blood cells and one unit of plasma, but donating plasma by itself yields three units of plasma," said Rose Weatherly, 81st MDTS registered nurse apheresis supervisor. "In turn, donating platelets gives about six times as many usable platelets as donating whole blood."

Blood products have various expiration dates, so donations of all types are always needed at the hospital and the blood donor center.

"Red blood cells are good for 42 days after collection," said Weatherly.  "Platelets have to be used within five days of collection."

Blood types must be matched between the donor and the recipient to ensure a safe transfusion.  The combination of an individual's blood group and the presence or absence of the Rh antigen determines an individual's blood type.

"There are four different blood groups: A, B, AB and O," said Lynn. "A person's blood group is distinguished by tiny antigens which cover the blood cell surface. Group A blood has A antigens, group B has B, group AB blood has both and group O blood has neither A nor B antigens.  Additionally, individuals who have the RH antigen are considered Rh positive and those without it are Rh negative."

O negatives and ABs are the hard part," said Lynn in describing the challenges of collecting blood.

Only 7 percent of the population is O-. However, the other 93 percent of the population can receive O- blood, making those with this blood type the universal donor.  O- blood is used in emergency situations when there is no time to test for blood type.

ABs are the rarest blood type, comprising only four percent of the population. Those with AB positive or negative blood types are "universal plasma donors," meaning all other blood types can receive AB plasma.

"Donors who have Type AB meet a greater need if they donate plasma - their red cells can't go to everyone, but their plasma can," said Weatherly. "And the O- blood donor's red cells are needed because those can be given to anyone."

Finding donors with rare blood types is only one of the challenges for blood donor centers. Anyone deployed to malaria-endemic regions in the past five years are deferred for one year. Those testing positive or at risk of exposure to HIV or hepatitis are deferred permanently.  Recent donations, tattoos, some diseases and medications, women with iron deficiencies or who are pregnant are among the reasons for partial deferment.

Potential donors must be at least 17 years old, have been feeling well for at least three days, be well hydrated and have eaten something prior to donating.  Tattoos, acupuncture, foreign travel and some immunizations can defer volunteers from donating for up to 12 months.

There are usually seasonal dips in the number of donors during the holidays and summer months, so Lynn encourages anyone who can get on the base to stop by the donor center and give blood when they can. 

The 81st Medical Group's next quarterly blood drive is 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 24 in the medical center's former emergency room area just north of the radiation oncology clinic.

Before giving blood, a staff member does a quick pre-screening and registration process with each donor to determine eligibility and make sure certain criteria are met.

Then, a technician performs a quick physical to record a donor's weight, temperature, pulse and blood pressure of the donor. A "finger stick" collects a small amount of blood for a hemoglobin test. If all measures fall within accepted guidelines, it's time to give blood.

"Our center is clean, our professional staff is well trained and we have free cookies, drinks and giveaways when you're finished," Lynn commented.

"If you're unsure if you are giving blood to the ASBP, look for our logo, an American flag blood drop, which is usually seen on our donor center staff's T-shirts and on various incentive items," McMinn suggested.

For more information or to host a blood drive, call 376-6100.  The center also has a Facebook page, Keesler AFB Blood Donor Center. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday.