Donation center closing, but blood still needs to flow

Posted: Monday, January 11, 2010

There's a vital lifeline that exists in our local community -- it is the Blood Bank of Alaska -- and it is about to be severed. Sadly the Soldotna center of the Blood Bank of Alaska plans on closing its doors Saturday, followed by the Wasilla donor center on Jan. 22.

According to the blood bank Web site and a letter sent out to its donors, bad economic times have led to the centers closing. The blood bank believes that by closing down both of the centers it will reduce its costs during 2010.

Will it? And at what cost to lives on the peninsula?

The blood bank provides enough blood for 25 hospitals in the state. It was originally founded 1962. When the operation first began it only needed 682 pints of blood. According to its Web site the needs for blood today are at 25,000 units a year. All of the blood collected by the bank helps people around the state, for people who are hanging on the edge of life and death.

According its statistics our Soldotna branch supplies 5 percent of its annual donations. On average 30 to 35 people visit the blood bank per week; that is the weekly 5 percent of all donations coming into the Blood Bank of Alaska. That means, by my math, on average that the blood bank will have to make up an extra 84 donors per week to make up for the shortage.

These closures will affect a lot of people, employees of the blood bank, regular donors, as well as recipients of blood. Recipients can be as simple as scheduled infusion for an ongoing cancer treatment to immediate hands-on need in the case of major accidents.

Employees will have to commute, move to another branch, or quit. People won't be able to donate as often now, and there is a list on the wall at the Soldotna branch of the many names of people who give regularly. Some of those donors have rare blood types, and some, such as Clarion managing editor, Will Morrow, a "baby donor," have blood that can be given to people with weakened immune systems. It's a sad thing that such an important part of our community is about to go away.

My Eagle Scout project was held at the local blood bank this past July. I wanted to organize and host my project at a place where I could truly help someone. What better an idea than giving a person the long term gift of life? With the help of peninsula residents from as far away as Homer I was able to help collect almost 50 units of blood over a week's time. There would have been more but the screening process to make sure the blood supply is safe weeded out many others, sometimes for reasons like a low iron count. This project was held in a non-emergency time. In Alaska it is not a matter of IF but WHEN an emergency or natural disaster will hit. What will happen now that Alaska has two different blood donation centers closing down and ours so far away from the main office in Anchorage? Our branch served the entire central peninsula.

In the letter, the blood bank stated more mobile blood units will be coming down to the peninsula to give people opportunities to donate. But think about this --in the 1964 earthquake the road from Anchorage was impassable. When (yes, when) the next one happens the major population centers will be in need of all their own donations, a mobile unit will be useless to us and our hospital will be busy tending to the injured. The support and help a local blood unit would provided would literally be the difference of life over death for someone. Maybe that someone would be your mom or dad or daughter or son.

Is there any thing that can be done?

If citizens can petition the city of Soldotna to buy a golf course to make it more attractive to live in, I think the city, or better yet, the borough, since it serves the entire peninsula, should fund the center. The knowledge that no matter what activity, accident or bear we might encounter, living in Alaska, would be a great draw.

If the hemorrhaging of our necessities to our communities, like the closing of the blood center can't be stopped, then please plan an event and arrange the mobile unit to come to your business or organization, or like area high schools, host a drive and challenge your competitors. It is not hard to donate. You just need, to be at least 16 to 17 years old with parental permission, weigh at least 113 pounds, and be in good health. The donation process does not take that long. Appointments are only a little under an hour, which are very easily scheduled.

Well, maybe it is a bit more difficult -- you have to want to help others, get over your fear of needles and be able to look ahead at what WILL happen and not pretend bad things don't happen or won't happen to you.

This article is the opinion of Zack Misner. Misner is a senior at Kenai Central High School.

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