Terrorist attacks prompt scores of first-time blood-bank donors to give

Posted: Friday, November 23, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Until Sept. 11, Jim Decker had given blood only sporadically through donation campaigns at BP, where he works as a corporate lawyer.

Then came the terrorist attacks. Like thousands of other Americans, Decker was compelled to give blood that very day. By 6:45 a.m., he was standing at the doors of the Anchorage-based Blood Bank of Alaska. Altogether, 270 first-timers were among the 708 Alaskans who showed up that day -- five times the usual number.

More than two months later, Decker said his blood-bank debut was based on more than a fleeting inspiration. He's even become a member of the blood bank's board of directors.

''Certainly the events of the eleventh were a motivating force,'' Decker said this week while another unit of blood was drawn. ''It was a good thing to do on an emotion-filled day. But I plan to continue donating on a regular basis to help meet the needs in Alaska.''

Decker doesn't have much company, however. Only about 15 first-timers have returned following the required 56-day waiting period between donations, blood bank officials said.

''We appreciate that people came here because of a national tragedy, but there are tragedies here, too,'' blood-bank spokesman Greg Shoemaker said. ''We're hoping that more first-time donors will return to help out their fellow Alaskans.''

Still, overall donations are up considerably for the state's only blood-collection source. The blood bank is affiliated with America's Blood Centers, a network of non-profit community blood centers in the United States and Quebec, Canada. The Alaska branch also has satellite centers in Wasilla and Soldotna, as well a bloodmobile that travels to various parts of the state, including Fairbanks, Glennallen, Valdez, Homer and Kodiak.

In September, the bank collected 2,187 units of blood, 375 more units than the previous September. October donations fell to 1,923 units, still a 165-unit jump over the previous October. The numbers are even higher, counting the people who try to donate blood but can't because they're sick, are on certain medications, recently traveled to undeveloped countries or got tattoos or body piercings within a year.

The blood bank needs 2,000 units a month to meet the needs throughout the state, according to Shoemaker.

The initial rush after the attacks swamped the blood bank. So it closed the next day and began taking appointments after that, although walk-ins are being taken again.

None of the blood collected ever made it to the East Coast, Shoemaker said. The New York Blood Center, an affiliate, collected 5,000 units the first 24 hours, which turned out to be more than enough.

''Tragically, as time went on, they realized there would be no survivors who would need the blood,'' Shoemaker said.

But when the news first broke, no one knew the outcome would be so bleak.

Decker's immediate thought was that there would be heavy casualties. After donating his own pint, he arranged to have the bloodmobile set up a donation center outside BP, which closed that day because of security concerns. The location was broadcast through local public service announcements.

By the end of the day, about 150 people had donated at BP. Most of the donors stood in line for at least three hours, but no one complained, Decker said.

''I can't say it enough: These people did a wonderful thing,'' he said.

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