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A year of awareness: Donating blood

A behind-the-scenes look at what happens once blood is donated tracks the blood from a Melville donation center to a processing lab in Westbury. Videojournalist: Jessica Rotkiewicz (Jan. 16, 2014)

Sprinkled throughout the calendar year, awareness months aim to bring a wider knowledge and understanding of various causes, from cancers to eating disorders and beyond. But as these months come and go, many of us put our colored ribbons away, ending our awareness participation until the following year.

For the Daily Apple, 2014 is to be the Year of Awareness.  That is, we will spotlight different causes as their months arise in the calendar. Of course, not every cause can be featured; but we hope that by the end of the year, our readers will have a greater sense of the struggles and amazing stories of the people touched by these campaigns.

A common unifier for all humans, blood is the one thing that keeps each and every one of us alive. It’s only fitting then, that our first month, January, is volunteer blood donor month.

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Whether you’ve donated before, or never been able to, how many people know what happens to a unit of blood, platelets and plasma after they leave a donor’s body?

To answer this question, and maybe even inspire a few of you to donate the next time you have the opportunity, we followed the path a pint of blood takes from the time of donation to when it’s ready to be distributed.

“When you donate blood, you get more than juice and cookies,” said Harvey Schaffler at the New York Blood Center’s Melville location last week.

Schaffler, executive director for donor marketing at New York Blood Center, explained the importance for blood donations saying, “In the New York area, over 2,000 people require a blood transfusion every day.”

“The only source of human blood are volunteer blood donors,” he continued, adding, “There is no substitute.”

For some, donating blood has a personal importance, a feeling that Huntington resident Joanne Schenendorf explained. “I have twin grandsons that were preemies, and one of them needed a transfusion.”

A donor before the birth of her grandsons, Schenendorf quickly recognized the impact the event had on her and her family. “It made the family that much more appreciative of how important it is to donate.”

Jody Goklevent, of Massapequa Park, said her reason for donating is a simple: “It’s a good thing to do.” More than that though, she explained, “If I were ever in an accident or something were to happen to me, I would want to know there was blood available to help me.”

While donors munch on the juice and cookies that Schaffler mentioned post-donation, their freshly collected blood is just beginning its journey to recipients across the area.

After donation, blood travels to one of the New York Blood Center’s two processing facilities where it is broken down into components.

"On average here in Westbury, we process 400 to 600 whole blood donations a day," said Jamie Kowalski-Corio, the assistant manager of Component Labs for New York Blood Center in Westbury.  

From there, the blood is scanned, grouped together by weight, spun in a centrifuge and then separated by parts. "The plasma is frozen and the red cells are stored in a 1-degree to 6-degree refrigerator," Kowalski-Corio explained.

"It’s usually about a 48-hour process from the time we receive the whole blood donation until we’re releasing it to our hospital services department to distribute to the hospitals," she said.

Whether, like Schenendorf and Goklevent, you donate because it’s “a good thing to do,” or because you love the juice and cookies, Schaffler asked, “What else can you do in an hour that can save a life?”

Blood donation by the numbers:

3: The number of lives one pint of blood can save.

5: The number of days platelets are viable for after donation.

7: The percentage of the U.S. population that has O-negative blood, a type that can be universally donated to people of all blood types.

10: The number of pints of blood the average adult has in their body. Only about 1 pint of that is given during donation.

38: The percent of the U.S. population that is eligible to donate, though less than 10 percent actually do every year.

42: The number of days red blood cells are viable for after donation.

56: The number of days a healthy adult must wait before donating again.

41,000: The number of blood donations that are needed nationally each day.

4,500,000: The number of Americans that receive blood transfusions each year.

Sources: New York Blood Center and The Red Cross

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