I was first introduced to blood donation when I trained as a medical laboratory technician (MLT) in 1996. It’s not that I was unaware of blood donation before then but my training as an MLT gave me a much better understanding of how blood products are used and the need to donate. One whole blood donation is separated into five components and can affect up to five individuals!
So, during my clinical rotation in a blood bank at Naval Hospital Great Lakes in 1997 at the age of 20, I learned how to do the actual “stick” to start the collection process. This “stick” is a bit different from regular veni-puncture since there is a very specific, methodical, and step-by-step site preparation process and a slightly larger gauge needle. I was intrigued by the process as well as the purpose and wanted to donate. So, after performing collections on volunteers during the blood drive, I too volunteered and became a blood donor for the first time!
At the same time this was happening, we began to implement new software called the Defense Blood Standardization System (DBSS). Being a technophile, I learned the system quickly. Like anything in the military, when you’re good at something you get utilized even more. So, the following year I did a no-cost duty swap to Naval Hospital Jacksonville, FL and based on my knowledge of the new system, was assigned to the blood bank. I continued to participate in blood drives, both as a collector and a donor.
I transferred to Okinawa in 2000 and once again, was assigned to the blood bank (blood transfusion services to be exact). I participated in some collection there but they had a separate crew that conducted the blood drives who did all the work (they served the entire Pacific region!). I continued to donate but I also continued to learn more and more about the many different uses for blood and blood products. Naval Hospital Okinawa has a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit that sees a lot of business. Before my Okinawa experience, I did not know how much blood, platelets, and other blood products were used in saving premature babies. One of the most amazing procedures I witnessed was Extra-corporeal Membrane Oxygenation. A dedicated Air Force team traveled from Texas (Wilford Hall here in San Antonio) to Okinawa to perform the procedure which required multiple units of red blood cells (RBCs), platelets, and fresh frozen plasma (FFP) which we supplied. We also used countless units of blood and blood products to save the lives of individuals injured in various ways.
Up to this point, I had only donated whole blood. I had heard about aphaeresis, a process by which blood is separated during the collection, but didn’t try it while in Okinawa. As president of the Junior Enlisted Association and Leading Petty Officer of transfusion services, I had a platform from which I could help promote blood donation. We had a very active junior enlisted population who did a lot of volunteer activity to include blood drives. I worked with Mrs. Leavitt to promote blood donation at every opportunity and that is how we arrived at the idea that I would reenlist while donating blood. My reenlistment was a requirement of my selection to the Seaman to Admiral-21 Program.
I reported to NROTC University of Florida in the summer of 2004. A blood drive was held at the start of the fall semester to foster some friendly competition between the services and also promote a good cause. I joined the midshipmen in soundly defeating Army and Air Force ROTC for the number of donors. After that donation, a friend asked me if I had considered aphaeresis platelet donation. I was intrigued since I had seen so much need for platelets in Okinawa and knew that platelets are harder to come by and have a very short shelf life. Platelets are usually “pooled” for use by adult patients so the product comes from several donors. This can pose a problem for the immune-compromised. They are better off getting the product that has been collected from one patient via aphaeresis. And this began a monthly routine of aphaeresis platelet donation which I continued from 2004 through August 2007.
September 15, 2007…why is this date important…well, I sat first row, north end zone, and watched my Florida Gators beat Tennessee 59-20! And later that evening, I became a blood recipient. I have no recollection of the accident that was caused by a drunk driver. I woke up in the hospital with my entire family around me and they filled me in on what happened. I lost about three units of blood and had been transfused with at least two units of RBCs.
A few months into my recovery, I inquired as to the rules regarding donating blood again. This is when I was told I could donate again after one year had passed from the date of my transfusion. When I donated in the past, I did it simply because I believed it was the right thing to do, if you could do it. Only a very small percentage of the population that is eligible to donate actually does so. Now that I had become a recipient, it only intensified my desire to donate again. I am more than happy to tell anyone who will listen about the need to donate blood. I donated at the first opportunity after regulations allowed me to do so in September 2008.
I continued to donate in Gainesville and have donated twice since arriving at Fort Sam Houston. As the second anniversary of my accident has now arrived, I looked forward to once again “beating the drum” to call attention to the need for blood donation.
YOU could save a life like mine!