Honor students at Kenai Central High School on Wednesday escorted classmates to and from a Blood Bank of Alaska mobile bus. The assigned task was a small part of the honor students’ participation in the school’s blood drive.
Walking the students back to class is important — one student passed out before returning to their desk during a previous blood drive, said Christine Bergholtz, science teacher and National Honor Society advisor.
“If that does happen, at least someone is there to help,” Bergholtz said.
The school’s blood drive is one of four events planned for this week on the Kenai Peninsula. Students organize the school drives, two of which are closed to the public. Additional drives at Skyview High School and a Rotary health fair are open to the public. During the holiday season, the blood bank focuses on mobile drives as its donations slow.
Skyview is holding Thursday’s event from 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. The school is located south of Soldotna on the Sterling Highway. As of Tuesday, eight donors signed up to give blood, said Karen Hamlow, librarian and student council advisor.
Last year, 24 donors gave blood. This year, there are 42 open spots, she said.
The drives are nothing new. The student council is comfortable with running the show, Hamlow said.
“They’re definitely excited to a point,” she said. “It’s something that’s been done in the past, and some of them have donated before.”
Homer High School is organizing a closed blood drive on Friday. On Saturday, the public can donate blood at the Rotary Health Fair in Homer from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The 29th annual health fair is also being held at the high school.
During the holidays, the blood bank likes to remind donors about the importance of keeping donations flowing.
It works with 21 partner hospitals statewide, providing blood products and services for patients. Historically, there is a drop in blood donations during November and December; donations drop seven to 15 percent. In November 2011, the number of blood donations across Alaska dropped by 400 donors. The goal for the next two months is about 2,600 donors each month, said the blood bank’s communications specialist Dani Bickford.
Mobile drives account for 60 percent of the blood bank’s blood supply. There are only three permanent sites serving the state. People are highly responsive when they spot the mobile buses pulled up to shops or workplaces, Bickford said.
“Alaska blood donors literally roll up their sleeves and donate blood to help members of the community,” she said.
Volunteer drive chairs organize most of the mobile drives, and in the case of the Peninsula high schools’ drives a Kenai Peninsula Borough School District employee coordinates with students to achieve set goals.
Student participation is important to the district’s administrators. Activities that benefit the community help students understand the importance of giving back, said Shawn Dusek, KPBSD’s assistant superintendant of instruction.
“It helps the community see teenagers in a positive light,” he said. “The district is focused on service learning-type opportunities. It also lets our student leaders organize a traditional event.”
Students organized Kenai Central’s first blood drive in 1997, Bergholtz said.
They hang up posters around the schools, inform their schools about the drives on the morning announcements and discuss the importance of donating blood during daily advisory periods.
The students’ efforts send this simple message: donate blood and save a life, Hamlow said.
The school district requires students under 18 get permission from their parents before donating blood, and they’re also required to be older than 16. This eliminates most freshmen and sophomores, but spring blood drives are planned so teenagers who celebrate a birthday between drives can donate.
Each donor donates about one pint of blood. On average, the blood bank uses 2,000 units per month. It aspires to collect 700 units per week, 100 donors per day.
A single emergency can drastically reduce their supply — traumas and accidents frequently dent the inventory, Bickford said.
“This summer, a Coast Guardsman stationed at Kodiak fell ill with (a blood disorder) and was flown to Alaska Regional for care,” she said. “He needed over 160 units of plasma for his therapy. A car accident victim can require up to 50 units of red blood, depending on the severity of the accident.”
To circumvent these shortages the blood bank encourages Alaskans to donate more throughout the year. While the Peninsula does not have a permanent blood-bank affiliated location, donors can donate during mobile drives.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.