News: January is National Blood Donor Month
Story by Kristen Wong
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII - Last October, Kalaheo High School junior Makai Clemons was the champion in the individual boys category at the Oahu Interscholastic Association Boys and Girls Varsity Cross Country Team and Individual Championships, and, by all accounts is, a healthy teenager. However, Clemons’ mother, Malia said when he was first born, doctors were unsure of his survival.
“At one point, he spent one week in (pediatric intensive care unit) at Tripler (Army Medical Center) and the doctors thought he would die due to severe anemia,” said Makai’s mother, Malia, the family readiness officer for Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367. “Yet through blood and platelets (donations), (today) he is a healthy 17-year-old (boy). The only reason Makai is alive is due to blood donors.”
Makai Clemons is just one of many people who exemplify how crucial blood donations are.
National Blood Donor Month is observed annually in January. In 1970, urged by Congress’ Senate Joint Resolution 154, President Richard Nixon proclaimed the first National Blood Donor Month.
According to the American Red Cross website, someone needs a blood transfusion every two seconds. People with diseases like sickle cell disease and cancer often need multiple blood transfusions.
The military annually joins the community in blood donation through the Armed Services Blood Program, which collects blood from service members worldwide.
“2013 was a great year for the military blood program, and we have you — our donors — to thank for it,” said Air Force Col. Richard H. McBride, director of the ASBP.
Others with ties to Marine Corps Base Hawaii have been blood recipients, such as 10-year-old Haley Tyrrell, who has been fighting recurring tumors in her brain and spine since 2009.
Tyrrell’s father, retired Gunnery Sgt. Patrick Tyrrell, former staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Warrior Athletic Reconditioning Program at Wounded Warrior Battalion West-Detachment Hawaii, thanked donors last January at the annual blood donor recognition ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
On Oahu, TAMC personnel host blood drives at several installations on the island throughout the year. Individuals can also sign up online for an appointment to give blood. Those considering giving blood can get more information from the ASBP website.
However, potential donors must meet certain criteria in order to give blood. According to the ASBP website, basic eligibility criteria includes a minimum weight of 110 pounds, feeling healthy three days prior to donation, properly hydrated and nourished before donating, and, depending on the state, at least 17 years of age. However, individuals can still be deferred from donating for additional reasons.
For instance, traveling to certain countries, and in some cases, during certain periods of time may either prevent or delay donation. The ASBP website lists countries and specific dates that can affect donation eligibility. Other factors include certain medical conditions, body piercings or art, and pregnancy.
According to the ASBP’s website, individuals can potentially spend up to an hour donating, though most of the time is spent in a pre-screening process.
During the pre-screening process, potential donors fill out personal information in a form, undergo a brief physical and a confidential interview.
During the physical, a technician will take the individual’s vital signs and administer a hemoglobin test. After the final interview, staff members will determine whether or not the applicant is able to donate.
If the individual passes the screening process, they spend about 10 minutes with a technician who collects their blood. Finally, donors can partake in refreshments provided by the staff to restore their blood sugar and body fluids. Donors must wait eight weeks before donating again.
For those who have never given blood before, Malia Clemons said other than the initial poke of the needle, the process isn’t painful, and donors can go about a regular day afterward, with the exception of strenuous physical activity like running a marathon.
“The medical staff at the donation sites are amazing and take care of their donors,” Clemons said.
Clemons and her husband began donating blood in 1997, shortly after their son was born.
When Clemons gave birth to her son, an Rh incompatibility resulted in him becoming anemic and in need of blood.
“If you’re Rh-negative and your baby is Rh-positive, your body will create antibodies (proteins) against the baby’s
Rh-positive blood,” reads an article on the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. “The Rh antibodies can cross the placenta and attack the baby’s red blood cells. This can lead to hemolytic anemia in the baby.”
By the time he was 4 months old, Makai Clemons had received 13 blood transfusions.
“Makai needed (type O negative) blood, which we are not, so (we) were unable to help him,” Clemons said.
Although Clemons can no longer donate due to her cancer diagnosis in 2004, her husband continues to this day.
“Strangers gave Makai life through their blood,” Clemons said. “We wanted to do the same for others.”
The next military blood drive on Oahu is Tuesday at Camp H.M. Smith at Pollock Theater, from 9 to 10 a.m. For more information, other scheduled blood drives or to schedule an appointment, visit http://www.militaryblood.dod.mil. The TAMC Blood Donor center coordinator can be reached at 433-6699.