Kathi Reed spent about 20 minutes Tuesday afternoon relaxing in a chair at the Western Kentucky Regional Blood Center on South Virginia Street drinking a Coca-Cola while giving her one-pint donation.
The Hopkinsville High School business teacher estimates she has donated about 5 gallons of blood at the center through the years.
“It’s one of those things you can do to give back to your community,” she said. “There’s a lot of things people do — they give money, they give time. As a teacher I stay incredibly busy and give a lot of extra time to my students, but this is a way I can give back to the community at large.”
National Blood Donor Month has been observed in January since 1970 with the goal of increasing blood and platelet donations during winter.
Reed said she normally gives several times a year, but the COVID-19 pandemic has deterred her from visiting the center as often. She said center officials called her Monday, encouraging her to donate again.
“I’m happy to help out,” Reed said. “I know the chances of me or my family will have the need (for blood) and I feel like I’ve added to the pot before I draw from it.”
The Western Kentucky Regional Blood Center is a non-profit community blood center serving Western Kentucky since 1978. They are the sole supplier of blood and blood products used at six Western Kentucky Hospitals, including Jennie Stuart Health.
“Blood cannot be manufactured in the lab. It cannot be recreated because it’s living tissue,” said Robbin Shively, public relations/donor recruitment director for the center. “Despite the COVID virus, people are still having surgeries. People are still undergoing cancer treatment. People are still in car accidents or having open heart surgery. The blood needs have not stopped at all. In fact, they have increased because of the COVID.”
Each year more than 16,000 pints of blood are needed to meet the demands of local hospitals, according to the center’s website.
Normally, they meet that demand by collaborating with area businesses, schools, churches and civic organizations who sponsor volunteer blood drives and with the support of the faithful volunteer blood donors who visit the centers in Hopkinsville and Owensboro. To some degree, the pandemic has changed that.
“We are not allowed yet to go back into any of our plants, factories, doctors’ offices, schools, colleges,” Shively said. “We are not seeing the blood donations we have in the past because of COVID. For the foreseeable future we don’t know when things will get back to normal or if they will.”
Reed said dozens of HHS students and staff would participate in blood drives at the school before the pandemic.
“It is a need in our community,” Reed said. “We used to have blood draws at the high schools. We haven’t been able to do that since COVID. So, I know, that’s made a big difference in our area. We look forward to being able to participate at school again.”
With the number of donations decreasing since the pandemic started, Shively said the need to fill that gap has increased. She said the Hopkinsville center needs about 80 pints of blood per week to help make up for the shortage.
“If we could see 320 (donors) per month, that’s going to be giving us what we need to supply our hospitals with what they need,” she said. “That’s 20 pints of blood per day. That would help us out tremendously.”
Instead of hosting blood drives inside community locations, Hopkinsville’s center staff uses the bloodmobile. Two community blood drives are planned for this month. Donors may give from 5 until 8 p.m. Wednesday at Cerulean Baptist Church in Trigg County and from noon until 6 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Hopkinsville-Christian County YMCA, Eagle Way bypass.
The center also accepts blood donations by appointment at 1902 S. Virginia St. Hours are 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday.
To schedule an appointment donors should call 270-885-0728 during office hours or 1-888-684-9296 after hours. Any after hours calls will be answered in Owensboro. Donors should tell the Owensboro office personnel they want to schedule times to donate at the Hopkinsville location.
Each center observes the required COVID social distancing and mask requirements. According to the website, a staff phlebotomist will perform a screening process including interview and physical of each donor. Donors can expect to answer several questions related to his or her lifestyle and medical history.
Next, donors will be given a mini-physical including blood pressure, pulse, temperature and a finger stick to ensure he or she has an ample amount of iron to safely donate.
Once the screening process is complete donors are ready to donate blood. The actual donation usually lasts from 5-10 minutes. The complete process takes about 30-40 minutes.
Every donor is thoroughly screened with each donation in order to keep the blood supply safe, according to the site. After people donate, the blood has to be tested and processed before it is distributed. Shively said that takes a full eight hours to complete.
Each pint of blood donated is divided into three different components, “so the patient gets only the component of blood that they need,” she said.
Those components are red cells, with a lifespan of 42 days, plasma, which can be frozen for up to a year, and platelets, which last five days, Shively said.
“We take our responsibilities to our hospitals very seriously,” she said. “You never know how much blood it’s going to take to save someone’s life.”
Shively said the need for blood never expires and encourages all eligible individuals to take time to donate.
“Nationwide, we’re struggling,” she said. “The only way we’re going to get through this is to unite — stand together and unite and take care of our communities.”