Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Giving blood during COVID-19 June 18, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’VE NEVER GIVEN MUCH THOUGHT to donating blood through the American Red Cross. It’s just something I’ve done, off and on, for years, after finally following Randy’s lead. I discovered that donating was easy. Drink plenty of fluids on donation day. Show up, healthy, at the appointed time with my RapidPass health screening paperwork in hand, go through a brief pre-donation physical screening and then move on to the table to start the donation process.

But the familiar routine of giving blood all changed with COVID-19. Suddenly, I thought twice about donating. Did I really want to do this in the middle of a global pandemic? Donating blood requires being up close with those screening and drawing your blood. But then I decided I needed to trust that all necessary precautions would be taken to keep me safe. They were.

I arrived masked, as required. Just like everyone at the community center donation site. My temperature was checked twice, once before I even entered. Tables were widely spaced in the former gymnasium. The foam form I squeezed during donation was covered. And only one worker tended to me, unlike in the past. Or, I should qualify, a sole Red Cross employee took me to the point of inserting the needle into my vein. It was then that everything changed. And it had nothing to do with COVID-19. Pain shot through my arm. Pain so intense that I had to muffle my outburst. I don’t recall my exact words. But they were something like, “Either you need to fix this or take this needle out.”

Let me assure you that I have a high threshold for pain having broken two bones, suffered from severe osteoarthritis in my hip and undergone eight surgeries in my lifetime. Blood and needles don’t scare me. But sharp pain like this, that bothered me. The supervisor took charge, professionally assessing that the needle likely needed to be pushed deeper into my vein. She made the adjustment and the pain eased to soreness. The likely cause of the problem, she explained, was scar tissue build-up on the vein.

My blood flowed freely into the bag. Soon I was done and sent to the refreshment table for juice and/or water and individually-packaged snacks. Then I was on my way, my first blood donation during a global pandemic successfully completed. Nothing to it. I considered that the new precautions put in place likely should always have been part of Red Cross protocol.

 

From The Gaylord Hub article.

 

For blood donors in one Minnesota small town, though, the changes due to COVID-19 reached beyond masking, social-distancing, more screening, etc. According to an article in the June 11 issue of the weekly, The Gaylord Hub, a recent blood drive in Gaylord “proved challenging.” And that wasn’t only because of deferrals and no-shows. The newspaper story states that “Gaylord coordinators were unable to serve the usual sandwiches, chips, pickles and beer.” Yes, you read that right. Beer. I’ll allow you to decide whether drinking beer right after giving blood is a good idea.

 

My blood donation card, now filled. I recently received a new one in the mail. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

One new idea announced this week seems like a really good one. Starting June 15 and at least through the summer, all blood donations will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies. Positive results indicate the donor may have had previous exposure to the virus and could thereby be eligible for the Convalescent Plasma Donation Program designed to help those battling COVID-19. That screening makes sense and is just one more way donors can help others. So, next time I give blood, I’ll learn whether the crud I experienced at Christmas with a temp, fatigue, feeling down and out, and a severe cough that lingered for weeks was just a routine seasonal virus. Or more.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting as I reach a milestone blood donation March 1, 2019

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My blood donation card. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MY AMERICAN RED CROSS CARD shows I started donating blood in 2009. Now I’ve reached the two-gallon donation mark. Note-worthy, I suppose.

But I hold regrets. Regrets that I didn’t start giving blood decades earlier and that I’ve given irregularly. I can’t offer an excuse that is acceptable. I was busy. Never considered donating, even though my husband had been giving for years. Who intentionally puts themselves through questioning and needle-poking? Not that I have an issue with questions, needles or blood.

Thankfully, 10 years ago, I decided to accompany Randy to a blood drive. And I discovered that donating blood is pretty darned easy. It just takes a bit of time. The process has become easier and quicker, though, with online screening (aka RapidPass) done at your convenience prior to your appointment. Once on-site, there’s additional health screening followed by the actual donation process. No big deal. I have no problem with needles or seeing blood or drinking lots of fluids (no alcohol, obviously) before or after.

I never really thought about what happens to my blood once it flows into a collection bag. Sure, I knew I was helping someone somewhere. But then awhile back, the Red Cross began emailing donors with specifics as in your blood went to this location. Wow. Great move. Stories connect us, make the act of donating personal. In the past, my blood has gone to Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming, Minnesota, and to Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria, Minnesota. I haven’t received notifications about my recent donations. Apparently this destination info is sporadic, according to a Red Cross scheduler who phoned the other evening to set up my next appointment in April.

But I do know that blood transfusions saved my mom’s life multiple times years ago. A single blood donation can help save up to three lives. So says info printed on my Red Cross donor card.

The Red Cross seemingly really really covets my blood, which is AB positive. Only four percent of the U.S. population has that blood type. But nearly 100 percent of patients can receive my blood. That info came in an email to me from the Red Cross. No pressure. Now I’ve also been asked to consider donating platelets, a process that can take up to two hours and which must be done at a donation center. For now I’m passing given the time and inconvenient metro location.

 

 

I will continue to give whole blood as long as I am able. The process is easy. And the need is always there. Every two seconds someone in America needs blood.

Please consider donating blood if you are eligible and able. The need is great to help save lives.

 

TELL ME: Has your life or that of someone you know/love been saved by a blood donation? I’d like to hear your stories.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Making donating blood just a little more personal February 8, 2018

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My blood donation card in my wallet. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I GIVE BLOOD to the American Red Cross whenever I can. Like last evening, at the Eagles Club in Faribault. I’m not paid. I just do it because it’s the right thing to do. Because blood transfusions saved my mom’s life years ago. Because I am healthy and able and I can help. My rare blood type, AB+, is always in high demand.

Admittedly I was a late-comer to this, having watched my husband donate blood for years before deciding I could do this, too. Now we go together, race each other in how long it will take to fill our blood collection bags. I usually win. We have a little fun.

Beyond the physical act of donating, I’ve never thought about what happens to my blood once it leaves Faribault. Now I know thanks to the Red Cross. The past two times I’ve given, I’ve received follow-up emails telling me specifically where my blood went. My mid-December donation went to Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming, Minnesota. Months earlier, my blood helped a patient at Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria, Minnesota.

It’s a brilliant idea, this sharing of location information. Although I will never know the name of the person whose life I may have helped save, I now feel a personal component to giving blood. And anytime that happens, we grow closer as humans in a world that, although deeply technologically connected, often feels more distant and uncaring than ever.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Giving blood, saving lives February 17, 2015

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“YOU SAVED THREE lives today.”

I’d never thought about blood donation in that specific personal frame until recently, when I gave blood at an American Red Cross blood drive in Faribault for the third time in my life.

In eight minutes and eight seconds, I filled a plastic bag with one unit of life-saving blood.

 

Blood donation sticker

 

Why haven’t I donated more often? I offer no excusable explanation.

But when the woman who had taken me through the entire hour-long process of preparing for and donating blood thanked me with those five words, I committed then and there to giving more frequently.

My mother, after all, was saved some 10 years ago by massive transfusions of blood. That memory of her near death weaved through my mind as blood flowed from my vein.

Personal experiences often influence our words and actions, fuel our passions and opinions.

 

Blood donation card

 

Adding to that personal connection and the “you saved three lives” was the discovery that my blood type, AB +, ranks low in the general population. Just three percent of Caucasians, like myself, have AB + blood. My blood can only be given to those with the same type. But I can, thankfully, get blood from anyone.

O + and A + blood types are the most common among all ethnicities. (Click here to learn more about the eight blood types.)

If you can’t donate blood for health or other reasons, you can still help. Take my friend Tami. She worked the refreshment table, making sure donors were properly fed and hydrated and doing OK before leaving the donation center. She’d rearranged her work schedule because the Faribault collection site was short of volunteers. That’s to be applauded.

Here’s the real clincher, though. Tami can’t handle blood and needles. She’d likely pass out if she attempted to donate. That came as a surprise because Tami came over to talk to me while my blood flowed into the collection bag. She displayed not an ounce of fear. I had no clue.

Only afterward, when my friend waited on me and other donors at the refreshment table, did I learn the truth. To set aside one’s personal anxieties to assist in the process of saving lives impresses me.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Have you ever donated blood or volunteered at a blood drive?

As an extra incentive, the North Central Chapter of the American Red Cross will enter the names of all donors who give blood between February 9 and 28 for a chance to win an iPAD mini.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling