Blood donor sets example for others in season of need


PITTSFIELD -- Deborah Fowler, a medical coder for Berkshire Medical Center, currently holds the hospital's record for donating the most blood -- 14 gallons (about 114 pints) and counting.

She's been donating since 1972 when a nurse friend encouraged her as a way of helping others. Fowler continues to contribute consistently but will also readily admit, "I hate needles."

She said her disdain for needles is not enough of an excuse to keep her from donating. Instead, she brings a friend to calm her, in this case, fellow coder Deb Kirchner, and uses a palm-sized football to squeeze, keeping her focused and her blood flowing.

She jokes about how she's slightly competitive -- another donor is only a gallon behind her -- but Fowler says, "My job gives me an awareness of the great need for blood."

Physician Jessica Krochmal, donor recruiter Lauren Schutz and BMC Blood Donor Center coordinator Alison Hayn said the need right now for both blood and platelet donations are great. Blood shortages tend to be a seasonal issue.

"Around here, in the winter, our regular donors tend to go south, and in the summer, people are too busy with travel and taking time off for vacations," said Krochmal.

"A shortage means we may need to call for backup. The American Red Cross is very dear to us with support when that happens, but they can also get into a shortage situation, as they have the past two summers."

Blood transfusions are used to treat everyone from victims of blood loss emergencies to cancer patients.

As a trauma center, BMC is required to have a six-day supply on hand at all times, or 120 units of blood each day. Each unit of blood equates to approximately a pint.

Blood units keep for 42 days, but platelets only have a shelf life of five days.

"You never know when you or someone you know might need blood. One major car wreck could wipe our supply," said Schutz, noting there's not a synthetic substitute for blood.

Already, about 60 percent of the Berkshire Health Systems' blood supply comes from its own employees.

Schutz said that between Berkshire Medical Center and Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, approximately 4,000 units of blood product are used to treat patients each year. Ninety percent of that is collected by the two hospitals, which is why local blood donations are critical to the county's supply.

Hayn said in April, around the time of the Boston Marathon bombing, the BMC donation center received 20 more donations than usual. She's hoping that more people will find a reason to donate more often.

"About 80 percent of people who come in here have a reason -- whether they have a family member or loved one who has been in need or themselves," said Hayn.

According to the BHS donation webpage, it's estimated that of the 270 million people living in the United States today, 150 million are eligible to give blood, and yet only about 8 million do. That amounts to a mere 3 percent of the population.

Schutz said the top reasons people tend to give for not donating blood are that "people are afraid, or they haven't been asked [to donate]."


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