Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Saving lives via blood &/or vaccination July 20, 2021

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My husband, Randy, and granddaughter, Isabelle, watch the sun set over Horseshoe Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

THE CF CARD in my Canon DSLR EOS 20-D brims with photos from a week at the lake cabin. The storyteller in me holds stories waiting to be written. But, right now, I have something more important to share and that is a public service announcement followed by a subtle nudge (or more accurately, a shove).

First, consider donating blood through the American Red Cross. There’s a severe shortage. That’s the message we’ve heard for weeks. In June, after a year’s pause, I resumed donating. I just didn’t feel comfortable giving during the worst of the pandemic. Yes, I realize health and safety measures were being taken to protect donors, but…I didn’t want a stranger close to me for any length of time indoors.

My blood donation card. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Now that I’ve been fully-vaccinated for several months, I felt comfortable donating blood again. It’s an easy process which requires screening for eligibility and about an hour of my time. On June 16, I lay on a table at the Eagle’s Club in Faribault, blood flowing from my vein into a bag. While donating, I never really think about how my blood could save a life. I just do it.

The Red Cross occasionally emails donors with general details about their blood donation destination. I’ve found that particularly informative and connective in a deeply personal way. This time my blood “after first ensuring that local needs were met,” went to Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. To whom, I have no idea. But simply knowing I helped a patient at a Philadelphia hospital means something to me. I now hold a personal connection to someone nearly 1,200 miles away from my southern Minnesota home.

Not only did I glean that bit of info from the Red Cross, but I also learned that I’ve developed COVID-19 antibodies as a reaction to the Pfizer vaccine, just as I expected. It’s reassuring to read those results from tests done on my blood donation. The Red Cross sometimes, but not always, tests for those antibodies. And, yes, tests do distinguish between antibodies developed from having the virus or from vaccination.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 15, 2020. Photo taken in downtown Faribault, Minnesota, of a local resident wearing a face mask to protect against COVID-19.

That leads to my next plea. Please, if you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated against COVID-19. Like donating blood, vaccination can save lives—yours or that of a family member, friend or even a stranger. It’s such a simple thing to do. My heart breaks when I hear of family members, friends or others who refuse to get vaccinated for whatever reason. I don’t want to lose any of them to a potentially serious and deadly viral infection that can be prevented. The unvaccinated are putting themselves at risk, especially with the highly-contagious and more serious Delta variant now spreading rapidly in the US and elsewhere. Health officials are now terming COVID-19 a virus of the unvaccinated.

Yesterday the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a recommendation that all children over age two wear masks when returning to school this fall, regardless of vaccination status. The same applies to school staff. That makes sense given many students are not yet vaccine eligible and determining who has, or hasn’t been, vaccinated would prove difficult. I want my 5-year-old granddaughter, who starts kindergarten, as protected as possible. She means the world to me.

So, yes, when people spout untruths about vaccinations and how they don’t need them and are not at high risk and so-and-so who had COVID didn’t get sick and it’s all about personal choice, I think of my grandchildren. And I think of my cousin who missed five weeks of work after contracting the virus and who is only now back working half-days. I think of my friend who lost her step dad first, and then her mom a month later to COVID. I think of my friend whose sister died of the virus. I think of my husband’s cousin, who lost her spouse, a previously healthy 60-year-old. I think of…the list of personal connections I have to COVID-19 deaths is lengthy.

When I donate blood, I choose to save a life. Like that of the patient in Philadelphia. When I got vaccinated, I chose to save lives also. It wasn’t just about me.

© Copyright 2021 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