The power of platelets in fighting cancer

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

Platelet donations are crucial in the ongoing fight against cancer. Their importance is movingly illustrated by a recent quote we received from Mandi Kuhlman, an American Red Cross blood donor in Putnam County, Ohio. Mandi said, “My 2 ½ year old son was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and through the course of his treatment he needed transfusion after transfusion. Between red blood cells and platelets he received 25 transfusions within the first few months of treatment as the chemo severely impacted his counts. Without the generosity of donors his outcome could have been much different, so I started donating to give someone else the precious gift of life saving transfusions.”

Mandi’s quote sums up the need and effectiveness of platelet donation for cancer treatment, the love of a parent, and the inspiration to help others. As February 4th is World Cancer Day — and February is National Cancer Prevention Month — we wanted to share her quote and highlight the need for platelet donation.

Platelets are a vital component in treating patients with cancer and other chronic diseases, as well as those recovering from traumatic injuries, as they stick to the lining of blood vessels, help form clots, and stop bleeding.

Nearly half of donated platelets go to cancer patients, as cancer and cancer treatments put them at risk for low red blood cells and low platelet counts, known as thrombocytopenia. In addition, some types of chemotherapy can damage bone marrow, which lowers the production of platelets. Cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma attack the bone marrow as well.

In addition, hospitals have a continual need for platelets, as they must be transfused within just 5 days after donation. In fact, on average a U.S. cancer patient needs a platelet transfusion every 30 seconds, and new cancer cases are expected to increase more than 36% by 2040, increasing their demand.

Platelet donation is a little different than regular whole blood donation. They need to be donated at select Red Cross Donation Centers and require an appointment.  

During the donation:

  • A relatively small amount of blood is drawn from a donor’s arm and goes into a blood cell separator. ​
  • This blood is rapidly spun, which forces the platelet cells to the bottom. ​
  • These cells then go into a sterile, single-use plastic bag. ​
  • Meanwhile, the rest of the blood — the plasma, red cells and white cells — is returned to the donor.
  • This cycle is repeated several times. A single donation of platelets often constitutes several transfusable platelet units.​

The Red Cross is especially seeking platelet donors with the following blood types and a high platelet count:​ A positive​, B positive​, AB positive​, AB negative​. (Type O negative and type B negative can make the most impact by giving whole blood or a Power Red donation.)

For more information or to make an appointment to donate platelets, please visit this page. You can also visit RedCrossBlood.org, download the Blood Donor App, or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

No more donor deferrals related to ‘mad cow’ concerns

John Dowell, blood donor

By EILENE E. GUY, American Red Cross volunteer

During this National Blood Donor Month, I’d like to salute American Red Cross blood donor John Dowell, even though he out-ranks me.

John, who makes his home in Lakewood, finished his service in the U.S. Air Force as a senior airman/sergeant. When he returned to civilian life, he tried to donate blood but couldn’t because he had been at RAF Upper Heyford near Oxford, England, from March 1981 to March 1983.

For decades, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned blood donations from folks who had spent time in certain European countries during the 1980s and ‘90s, to prevent transmission of a deadly brain infection commonly known as “mad cow disease.”

The Red Cross, of course, respected that ban, which meant turning away potentially hundreds of thousands of donors, including many in the military community who had served overseas.

Last year, the FDA lifted the final section of its “mad cow” ban after finding there had been no reported cases of the brain disease associated with time spent in the United Kingdom, France and Ireland.

“As soon as I heard about it (lifting of the ban), I was right down there to donate the next day,” John said.

John comes from a family of dedicated blood donors – mom, dad and sister – so he started donating when he was in high school. “I was just a couple of pints short of a gallon when I went into the air force,” he said.

John Dowell donating blood 2022

“I believe in it. It’s important to have that spare blood on the shelf,” he said. “I don’t try to recruit people – if you want to donate, fine. If not, I’ve got your back,” he added with a chuckle.

But John is active in a couple of Facebook groups populated by the military community. When he posted about the lifting of the “mad cow” donor ban, “I got a big response, an overwhelming response. ‘Hey, that’s great to know. Thanks for putting out the word’,” his Facebook friends replied.

So, I want to salute Sgt. John Dowell for his service, in uniform and as a civilian, doing his bit to be sure there’s “blood on the shelf” for those who need a lifesaving transfusion.

If you, or someone you know – military or civilian – has been deferred from giving blood because of the “mad cow” (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease) criteria, you can contact the Red Cross Donor and Client Support Center at 1-866-236-3276 for more information.

During National Blood Donor Month, please consider joining the ranks of folks, young and old, who serve their country in a profound way. I salute you.

To find a blood drive near you, go to http://www.redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-REDCROSS.

Posted by Ryan Lang, American Red Cross volunteer and board member

This is the way to start a New Year

By Doug Bardwell, Red Cross volunteer

If this were a typical January, we’d still be talking about how difficult it is to maintain New Year’s resolutions, how The Ohio State Buckeyes coulda/shoulda won the NCAA College Football National Championship, and who’s going to make it to the Super Bowl. (Spoiler alert – not the Browns.)

January is also National Blood Donor Month, celebrating all those who volunteer to donate blood and platelets to help save lives. But due to recent weather events, those precious donors are even more critical than ever.

Approximately 10 Red Cross blood drives across Northern Ohio were canceled due to extreme weather during the week of Christmas in December. These cancellations resulted in a shortfall of more than 260 blood donations.  Many more blood drives were canceled elsewhere across the country due to the weather, resulting in even more potential donations going uncollected.

Christy Peters, blood donor and Regional Communications Manager with the American Red Cross

This isn’t a typical January

Instead, our thoughts and prayers tonight were centered on those on the west coast. Four years ago this week, I volunteered with the Red Cross for the horrific Paradise fire outside Chico, California. It was so dry there that the fires spread faster than firefighters could manage, and there wasn’t enough water to save the town.

Now it’s too much water, as California braces for repeated ‘atmospheric rivers’ and ‘bomb cyclones,’ where 10 percent of the US population is under severe storm advisories. Think about that – 10% of our entire country is in fear of weather catastrophes, from flooding to sinkholes to landslides.

Red Cross workers outside a shelter in Northern California

For the Red Cross, many more blood drives could be canceled over the next week as those gigantic rain events cross the state and people try to find safe roads to escape the floodwaters.

But the need doesn’t stop

Winter is typically one of the most challenging times to collect blood products, even without the insane weather. So, now would be an ideal time to make a New Year’s resolution that can save up to three lives with each of your donations. A typical whole blood donation takes less than 30 minutes.

Donors of all types are needed, particularly type O donors, the most needed blood type by hospitals for emergency surgeries. Statistics show that one in seven patients entering a hospital needs a blood transfusion, yet only 3% of Americans actually donate.

Now’s the time

Whether you are a first-timer or a returning hero, everyone who donates before January 31 will be automatically entered to win a trip for two to Super Bowl LVII in Arizona, with pre-game activities, game day tickets, airfare, three-night hotel accommodations, and $500 gift card.

Join a winning team – make a blood or platelet donation. Book now using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Reasons to give – in the words of Red Cross blood donors

By Samantha Pudelski, American Red Cross volunteer

Everyday people across the Northern Ohio Region of the American Red Cross go to neighborhood drives to give blood. Several drives are scheduled this week. Throughout the year, many donors share their reasons for donating, and explain why others should consider donating blood. The stories they share are inspiring, touching and sometimes, their reasoning is simple.

We wanted to share just a few of the reasons why our blood donors made their first donation, and continue to give blood.

As we wrap up 2022 and look forward to 2023, consider adding “donate blood” on your New Year’s Resolution list. Or if you have donated in the past, put it on your to-do list for next year. Whatever your motivation, whatever your reason, we hope you share it with your family, friends, colleagues and if you feel so inclined, please share why you donate with us. Your stories and those of the individuals who receive blood continue to inspire the Red Cross every day.

For more information on donating blood, and to find an upcoming blood drive near you, visit https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive.

Surgeries don’t stop for the holidays and neither does the need for blood

By Christy Peters, American Red Cross Regional Communications Manager

I haven’t spent much time in casinos, but I’ve heard many of them have no clocks or windows visible, on purpose. With no concept of hours passing, much less whether it’s day or night, it’s much easier to part with one’s money. I recently discovered another, much less fun place where time flies by but also stands completely still – a hospital waiting room.

Christy Peters, with her father Dave

A week ago, my father underwent open heart surgery to replace his mitral valve. My father is
very healthy and has never had major health issues, so it was difficult to wrap my head around him having such a major surgery. As we waited with him before he was taken to the operating room, he mentioned that he was asked by the nurse if he would take a blood transfusion, should the need arise during his surgery. He found it ironic, since his daughter works for the American Red Cross. All I could think of was the number of times I’d told someone “You never know when someone you love may need a blood transfusion.”

The winter months are always a difficult time for the Red Cross to collect blood. That difficulty increases when you consider the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is predicting a serious spread of flu, already reporting an early spike in cases in several states. When seasonal illnesses increase, the number of healthy donors tends to decrease, leaving the Red Cross blood supply vulnerable to a potential shortage over the holidays. Donors − especially those with type O blood and those giving platelets − can help bolster the blood supply now by making an appointment to give in the coming weeks.

Dave, the author’s father, with Reid, one of his eight grandchildren

Thankfully, my father’s surgery was a complete success, and he didn’t need a transfusion. I know that is not always the case. My dad was one of hundreds of patients going into surgery that day, many probably facing a procedure more complicated than his. And I was one of hundreds of daughters, sons, wives and husbands hoping that, if the need arose, blood would be available for the person I love. Available because a stranger I didn’t know took an hour out of their day to give blood. So, to all of you who give and will give, thank you. You each make the long wait in a hospital a little easier for families like mine.

What you need to know about the flu vaccine (and donating blood) this year

By Sam Pudelski, American Red Cross volunteer 

Fall is here, and along with it comes flu season. If you are a regular blood donor, you may have questions about the flu shot and if it will affect your ability to donate blood (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t!). Even if you donate blood less frequently or you have not donated before, the American Red Cross of Northern Ohio answers some common questions about getting the flu vaccine and shares what you need to know about donating blood this fall and winter. 

Why should people get their annual flu vaccine? 

  • Getting your yearly flu shot is the best line of defense against the flu. If you do get sick, your symptoms might not be as severe if you are vaccinated. 
  • While some people may think getting the flu is no big deal, it can be serious – even for those who are healthy. 
  • Vaccination to prevent influenza is especially important for people who are at high risk for developing serious complications from the flu. Members of their household or those who are in close, frequent contact with individuals who are high risk should get vaccinated. 

Who should get the flu vaccine? 

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone six months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season, with rare exceptions. 
  • There are different flu vaccines approved for different age groups and for some people, like those who are pregnant or have certain chronic health conditions. 
  • If you have any questions, talk to your primary care provider. 

What do I need to know about the flu vaccine and donating blood? 

March 11, 2019. Monroe Carell Jr Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Nashville, Tennessee. Photographs from blood bank at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, blood donations at Red Cross on Monday, March 11, 2019 in Nashville, Tenn. Photo by Sanford Myers/American Red Cross
  • Getting the flu vaccine helps to support a healthy community and ensure that patients have access to lifesaving blood products year round. 
  • When you get a flu shot, you don’t need to defer or delay your next blood donation. 
  • If you do get the flu, it is important to wait until you no longer exhibit symptoms and have recovered completely before attempting to donate. 

Can I get my flu shot and COVID-19 shot at the same time? 

  • It is safe to get your flu and COVID-19 vaccination shots at the same time.  
  • Talk to your health care provider to see if you are eligible to get your COVID booster or if you have any questions. 

Where can I get a flu vaccine? 

There are several places that offer flu shots in our community. You can check with your local pharmacy or schedule an appointment with your primary care provider’s office to get your vaccine. Additionally, some local county public health departments may offer flu vaccine clinics. Check your local county health department’s website for more information.  

How frequently can you donate blood? 

Have you considered donating blood this year? If so, you should know that you can donate more than once per year. You can provide whole blood donations every eight weeks (56 days), up to six times per year. You must wait 16 weeks (112 days) between Power Red donations. Platelet donors can give every seven days, up to 24 times per year. Plasma donors can give every 28 days, up to 13 times per year. As a thank-you, all who come to give Oct. 16-31, 2022, will receive a $10 e-Gift Card by email to a merchant of choice. 

The Red Cross holds blood drives across Northern Ohio regularly. You can help save lives by giving blood. To find an upcoming blood drive near you, visit www.redcross.org/give-blood.  

Edited By Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer 

Posted by Ryan Lang, American Red Cross board member and volunteer

Recognizing Red Cross phlebotomists during National Blood Collectors Week

By Christy Peters, American Red Cross Regional Communications Manager

Often, when I tell someone I work for the American Red Cross, I get one of two responses. The first is usually a story about how the Red Cross helped the person or someone they knew. The second reaction is an immediate explanation of how the person really wants to give blood but they’re nervous and they just don’t think they could ever do that.

I can make you feel better right now if you happen to be one of those people who’s never given blood. I didn’t start giving until I began working for the Red Cross and, even then, it took me a really long time to finally do it. What’s even worse? A big part of my job is talking about why we need more people to give! So, what made me finally take the plunge? Getting to know the amazing phlebotomists at the Red Cross.

I recently gave my 12th pint of blood and, as always, I was nervous as I went through the process. But I was lucky because that day, La’shawn Sims was my phlebotomist. She was incredible…funny, kind, enthusiastic and she calmed my nerves immediately. La’shawn has been with the Red Cross for three years as a phlebotomist/driver.

Red Cross Northern Ohio phlebotomist La’shawn Sims prepares blood products for transport during a blood drive at University Hospitals in Cleveland.

“I love my job because of its mission, the ability to help others save lives,” said La’shawn. “I love listening to the donors and the reasons why they donate.”

September 4-10 is National Blood Collectors Week, a time to recognize the amazing work done every single day at the Red Cross by phlebotomists like La’shawn. In the Northern Ohio Region nearly 100 individuals work in this role, helping to collect blood in communities across the Region. The position requires an individual to complete weeks of specific Red Cross training, both in the classroom and on the job, prior to working independently.

Northern Ohio phlebotomist Ariel Blanks prepares to draw blood from Martha Liechty at the 2022 Cleveland Browns Blood Drive

In addition to collecting blood, many staff members drive Red Cross trucks loaded with the equipment needed to set up and run a successful blood drive. The driver role often requires first heading to Regional headquarters in downtown Cleveland, loading the truck and then driving it to the blood drive location. Phlebotomists can also take additional training to learn how to collect Power Red or platelet donations, which require a different process than whole blood collection. Above all else, these individuals are the face of the Red Cross, helping donors through the blood donation process, ensuring a positive experience and hopefully, a lifetime of blood donations.

During National Blood Collectors Week, we give thanks to you – all the phlebotomists who are on the front lines each day, ensuring patients have the blood they need. And, even if you’re nervous like me, La’shawn encourages everyone to donate blood.

“It only takes 30 minutes of your time, and you’ll help save three lives with just one pint.” And, whether it’s La’shawn, or another great Northern Ohio collections staff member, you can know you’ll be in great hands.

Learning by example: How will you celebrate National Parents’ Day?

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross Volunteer

National Parents’ Day (July 24, 2022) isn’t one of the most recognizable holidays in the United States, but it has been celebrated since 1994. That’s when President Clinton signed a congressional resolution to “recognize, uplift and support the role of parents in the rearing of children.” It’s been held annually on the fourth Sunday of July ever since.

Really?

Having been a proud parent for 55 years, would you like to know how many times we’ve been wished “Happy Parents’ Day?” Me too. I don’t think ever. 

So, maybe Parents’ Day is a day to wish each other congratulations for everything you’ve done well over the years. I can get into that.

A bit of background

Growing up as an only child, I had only one perspective on my parents’ parenting skills. Conversely, my wife was one of 11, and grew up with an entirely different set of experiences. Fortunately, being the second oldest in her family, she learned all the skills I never did about taking charge of and caring for youngsters. That bode well for our children, and I credit her for keeping our family on the straight and narrow.

When we were expecting our first child, I took Parenting 101 at Cuyahoga Community College, and the only thing I recall but did try to live by was that “children learn by example.”

Jim Henson, of Muppets fame, probably said it better:  “The attitude you have as a parent is what your kids will learn from more than what you tell them. They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”

Did it work?

Having been a blood donor for years now, as our children got older, they were aware of my blood donations, and as they entered college, a majority donated as well. At a recent boy’s night out with my boys and grandsons, I polled the table and was delighted to find out that most of my grandchildren, 17 and over, are donors as well. As their younger siblings become of age to donate, I’d expect the trend to continue.

Siblings Greg and Sarah Whitkoski recently donated blood together at Lakewood High School.

Hopefully, you are a donor (but if not, now’s not too late to start.) Next time you donate, consider coaxing your teen to come along. They can donate in many states at 16 with parental consent, assuming they meet certain height and weight restrictions. Learn more here about special student guidelines.

Even if they don’t come along, make them aware of why donating is important to you. I didn’t realize its impact on my family until years later. Happily, I didn’t have to tell them to do it – they just grew up doing what I did. That’s thanks enough for Parents’ Day.

And I can’t think of a better tradition for Parents’ Day than giving blood regularly.  Start here by finding a blood drive close to you.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

“Tattoos!” A story and reminder about blood donation and tattoos for National Tattoo Day

By Christy Peters, American Red Cross Regional Communications Manager

1947 – Grandma & Grandpa’s engagement picture – photo courtesy of Christy Peters

One of my favorite stories about my grandparents happened on one of their early dates. They both lived in Canton and had recently started dating. One night, when my grandfather was driving my grandmother home, they had car trouble. Luckily for both of them, my grandfather worked as a mechanic. He pulled the car over to the side of the road and got out to inspect under the hood.

Grandma got out with him and once the hood was open, Grandpa began rolling up his sleeves to get to work. Suddenly he heard my grandmother scream, “TATTOOS!” Apparently, in all their time together, Grandpa had always worn long sleeves and had not revealed his two very prominent arm tattoos, courtesy of his time in the Army during World War II.

Grandma was shocked but I think most of her reaction had to do with what her parents, my great grandparents, were going to say when they found out she was dating a man with tattoos. Thankfully, everyone got over the scandalous tattoos and my grandparents went on to be married for 70 years until my grandmother passed away in 2019.

You’re probably thinking, “Great story but what does it have to do with the American Red Cross?” Well, if you didn’t know, July 17 is National Tattoo Day, a day that “recognizes the history, culture, and artists dedicated to etching ink permanently on the skin.” Unfortunately, many people think the Red Cross is just as shocked by tattoos as my grandmother was that night many years ago. People often tell me they can’t donate blood because they have a tattoo, or that they recently got a tattoo and think they must wait years before giving again.

Grandpa and his tattoos in 1952 – photo courtesy of Christy Peters

I’m writing this blog to let all of you with gorgeous ink know that none of that is true! In Ohio, there isn’t a deferral if your tattoo was applied with a sterile needle and fresh ink in a state regulated facility. If you received your tattoo in a different state, you can find out if that state requires you to wait to give here. And, even if you do have to wait, the deferral period is only three months, not years.

If you’ve not been donating because of tattoos, now is the perfect time to begin. During the month of June, the Northern Ohio Region collected nearly 2,000 fewer donations than needed to help meet patient needs. Your donation now will help us avoid a summer shortage. So, just like my grandpa did on that date, roll up those sleeves proudly and show off your tattoos while you help save lives! Find a drive near you and make an appointment today!

Posted by Ryan Lang, American Red Cross volunteer and board member

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Rock, Roll, and Ride with the Red Cross this World Blood Donor Day

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

June 14th is World Blood Donor Day, and the American Red Cross Can’t Help giving blood donors a chance to get All Shook Up, whether rocking and rolling with the legacy of Elvis at Graceland or on rides at Cedar Point.

The World Health Organization (WHO) created World Blood Donor Day to raise global awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products for transfusion, highlight the critical contribution of volunteer blood donors to national health systems, and help support and expand blood donor organizations’ programs. The WHO states, “Becoming a regular voluntary blood donor is a simple but selfless step that everyone can take to strengthen their communities, support local health systems and save lives.”

The Red Cross, which supplies about 40% of the U.S. blood supply, typically sees a drop in blood donations during the summer, but the need for blood does not take a break. On average, someone in the U.S. needs blood every two seconds, including new moms, premature babies, cancer patients and accident victims. Each day, the Red Cross needs to collect about 12,500 blood donations to meet the needs of patients at about 2,500 hospitals and transfusion centers across the country.

And blood donors can now celebrate providing the gift of life with roller coasters and rock and roll!

In addition to helping save lives, through August 4th, generous blood donors at select blood drives in Northern Ohio will receive a free ticket to Cedar Point, while supplies last. To find a blood drive with this promotion, enter sponsor code “CEDARPOINT” when searching here or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

And throughout the U.S., the Red Cross is celebrating Elvis Presley–a blood donor himself who left a legacy of generosity and community service–rock and roll, and the new film, Elvis, with a chance to win a VIP trip for two to Memphis and Graceland! Through June 30th, those who come in to give blood will be automatically entered for a chance to win the trip, which includes round-trip airfare for two to Memphis, a three-night stay at The Guest House at Graceland and Elvis Entourage VIP tour, courtesy of Graceland, and $500 gift card for expenses, plus a custom-wrapped Gibson Epiphone guitar! Blood donors will also be sent a $5 e-gift card to a merchant of their choice. More information and terms and conditions are here.

Please visit redcrossblood.org to find a local blood drive. A blood donor app is also available, which makes it easy for donors to schedule and manage appointments, track the lifetime impact of donations, view health history information, and earn rewards. It is available at the above website, texting BLOODAPP to 90999, or searching “American Red Cross” in app stores.

Please help celebrate the gift of life, summer fun, the spirit of rock and roll, Elvis, and World Blood Donor Day by scheduling a donation. And thank you, thank you very much.