A gift for those in need that doesn't cost a dime

People give blood during the holidays, a time when donations usually drop off

Maryland Journal


It wasn't shopping or visiting or partying that featured foremost on Phillip Z. White's to-do list when he arrived at his parents' Towson home from Southern California.

It was bleeding.

Coming home for the holidays usually leads people to the mall for last-minute gifts or to the houses of friends and family to reminisce. Not White. When the 28-year-old Baltimore native awoke Christmas Eve morning, still groggy from his cross-country flight from San Diego the night before, he promptly set out to deliver his first gift of the season: a pint of his blood.

White stopped at the American Red Cross donor center on York Road in Lutherville to donate blood - and not because of the news of blood shortages or persistent automated calls asking for donations.

So what drove White to happily let a stranger stick a needle in his arm to drain his vein? Habit.

"I give blood all the time," said White, an employment headhunter in San Diego. He said he began donating three times a year after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"That made me realize I need to contribute," he said.

White apparently is not alone. Nearly 35 people also took time out of the hectic holiday weekend to donate blood to the Red Cross on Christmas Eve day. That scene will continue to play out today and for the rest of the week at the dozen donor centers throughout the Red Cross' Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Region - which includes Central Maryland, Washington, Northern Virginia and southeastern Pennsylvania.

The Red Cross says it cannot afford to let up on its daily push for donations - except for Christmas, when all donor centers typically are closed. The organization collects about 300,000 pints of blood every year in the region.

But current shortages of all four blood types - A, B, O and AB - can be exacerbated by a drop off in donations between Christmas and New Year's Day, said Red Cross spokesman Shaun E. Adamec.

"Our O-negative and B-negative blood types are almost depleted," Adamec said.

He said a stock of five to seven days worth of blood is considered safe by the Red Cross.

"O-negative is at less than half a day," he said last week. "B-negative, there are three units left on the shelf."

To maintain an adequate stockpile of blood, the regional Red Cross' goal is to collect about 1,000 pints of blood a day. Donors can only give a pint of blood every 56 days, which is how long the body needs to replenish its supply. To collect the desired amount, however, the region's Red Cross operation must process 1,500 people daily because various health concerns prevent some from donating.

Once blood is drawn into a sealed plastic bag, it is packaged in large red coolers that are shipped to the region's main distribution center on Mount Hope Drive in Baltimore. Samples are sent to a Philadelphia lab for testing. Once the results are returned, the blood is delivered to hospitals throughout the region, which gets 80 percent of its blood from the organization. The $95 million annual operation of the Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Blood Region is the fifth-largest of the Red Cross's 35 regional collection groups.

"Johns Hopkins is our biggest customer in the region," Adamec said. "The idea is to have the local community take care of the local blood needs."

That's exactly what was happening at the York Road facility Saturday.

Kelly Dickey, the site's manager, orchestrated a team of six paid Red Cross medical technicians and two volunteers to handle the 35 people who came in between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m.

People like Nizar Ibrahim.

The 45-year-old IBM employee from Towson said he gives blood frequently and decided to donate for the second time this year after receiving a relentless round of automated calls from the Red Cross.

"In the last month, they called 15 to 20 times," Ibrahim said. "I didn't know they were in a shortage."

As a medical technician tended to his arm, Ibrahim opened his laptop computer balancing on his stomach and checked the Internet ("News and sports," he said jokingly. "What else is there?")

But the procedure was over by the time he had called up his first Web site, and there was nothing funny about the memory he associated with his first donation. He gave blood six years ago this month in an attempt to help save his 19-year-old niece, who bled uncontrollably during a botched medical procedure that would result in her coma and death a month later.

"That was the first time I had ever given blood," he said.

The first time for Stephen McGraw, 22, of Washington was about 56 days ago. McGraw, a graduate student at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, said he decided shortly after he graduated from St. Mary's College of Maryland in May to follow his father's example of donating blood.

"I figure it's time to get into the adult world," said McGraw, who went Christmas shopping after donating. "It is the responsible thing to do. It doesn't cost you anything, and it makes a meaningful impact on other people's lives."

Kim Friner, 45, a city social worker from Owings Mills, was happy to donate blood even though the procedure kept her from shopping with her 8-year-old daughter.

"I didn't really want to go shopping," Friner said. "My children tease me, `You let someone stick you with a needle?'"

She said donating did not alter her weekend plans, which included attending Christmas parties Saturday and hosting a Hanukkah party yesterday.

"The only sacrifice about giving blood is time," she said. "It's a nice way to give back."


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