JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- –
“During this time of year, the donations kind of dry up,” said Staff Sgt. Taylor Altrichter, Blood Donor Center NCO-in-charge of quality assurance. “People are busy with the holidays and we have a hard time getting as much blood as we need.”
As the largest blood donor center in the Defense Department shipping blood to 23 different sites, this can be a problem.
To meet the ever-present demand for whole blood, platelets and plasma, the unit offers walk-in donations Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in addition to their regular traveling blood drives.
“We treat our donors well,” said Senior Airman Brandy Jones, medical laboratory technician, weighed down with blankets and pillows for a platelet donor. “We give them movies, cookies and juice!”
The process takes under an hour for whole blood donations and about 1 1/2 hours for those willing to donate platelets. Platelets are an important component and well worth the extra thirty minutes, according to the technicians.
“It would take six donors donating whole blood to get as much as we would need for a single transfusion of platelets,” said Andrea Laws, apheresis technical supervisor. “A platelet donor can sometimes give us 18 donors’ worth of platelets.”
The apheresis process separates platelets from the red blood cells, then transfuses the red blood cells back into the donor.
“We get a lot of people worried that they won’t be able to work out – with platelets, you can exercise again in an hour,” said Senior Airman Matthew Long, medical laboratory technician. Donors can give platelets once per week, if they choose.
The blood, platelets and plasma, 41,000 units each year from JBSA-Lackland’s donor center alone, is sent to a host of locations around the globe, including deployed locations; to Brooke Army Medical Center and Veterans Affairs hospitals here in San Antonio. It goes to trauma patients and those with illnesses like cancer and sickle cell anemia who need regular transfusions.
The stories of these patients stick with those who collect blood on their behalf. Altrichter remembers a combat controller in particular who came to thank her and her team personally.
"He told us this incredible story of being shot in a gunfight, giving himself care and then continuing to fight back until he passed out," Altrichter said. "His team members evacuated him to the hospital where he needed transfusions to stay alive. That story stayed with me.”
Sometimes the blood the donor center team collects and sends downrange isn’t enough to meet the demand or it isn’t on hand in a combat situation.
To meet this demand, the Blood Donor Center here also pre-screens deploying service members for factors that could preclude them from being able to donate. In case of a combat field transfusion or walking blood bank, donors are already identified, tested and ready to give life-saving blood transfusions.
“The donor center and our mission would fail without the continuous influx of volunteer donors,” Altrichter said.
In addition to giving blood, anyone can also request a blood drive at their unit through the center’s donor recruiter, Cheryl Parmer. For more information, call 210-292-8145.