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Blood bank donation good gift idea

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There are few gifts as inexpensive and meaningful as the one that sustains life. The Armed Services Blood Bank Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord collected donations of said gift at Nelson Recreation Center Nov. 30 for one of its most successful drives to date.

Each unit of blood collected by the ASBBC is sent directly troops serving downrange within seven days of collection.

"Our main purpose in life is to support contingency operations Iraq and Afghanistan, and then after that it goes to military medical facilities," said Victor Shermer, ASBBC blood donor recruiter.

Nearly three dozen Soldiers congregated outside waiting for the doors to open at 11:30 a.m., and they continued to trickle in through 6 p.m. First Sgt. John Knight of B Company, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, was part of the reason so many Soldiers lined up early. As incentive, he gave those who donated permission to report to work a few hours late the following day. But Knight insists that was hardly the reason why any of his Soldiers were there. Like others who donated that day, they all shared one thing in common: the desire to help fellow Soldiers.

"If we can give it, then why not?" Knight said.

"They're all working hard over there, and this is the least we can do," added Capt. Seth Nason, B Co., commander, 4-23 Inf.

Sounds simple enough, but statistics indicate a harsh reality. Although the drive at Nelson was vastly successful with 158 units of blood collected, more than 40 people who came hoping to donate were turned away because of eligibility requirements.

A number of factors can disqualify a potential donor, including exposure to malaria-endemic countries within the last year, recent tattoos and body piercings, pregnancy, certain immunizations and poor health. Each restriction is in place to ensure blood recipients receive an uncontaminated product. Although the list of restrictions seems long, the problem is not finding people who meet all requirements. It's finding people who are willing to donate.

"Of the ones who are eligible to donate, only about 3 percent of them actually donate," Shermer said.

It's an even bigger challenge during the holidays when so many people are on block leave or simply too busy to take time out to donate.

For Corinne Riley, there are no excuses to not give blood. The mother of two brought her children, who patiently waited while she and her husband made their way through the hour-long process. Riley donates year-round and wishes other people consider doing the same.

"People assume that somebody else will take care of it," Riley said. "They don't realize how important it is until they need it. They think it just sits on a shelf and doesn't get used."

An excuse for not donating that Tumara Moore often hears is a fear of needles. Moore, an Army spouse, became emotional while speaking about the impact others would have if people would overlook any phobia and focus on the goal.

"The pain only lasts for a little while," Moore said. "There are so many selfish, selfish people out there that just don't want to take the time, and it's ridiculous."

Eligible donors can donate every 56 days. The entire process takes less than an hour in most cases, with the blood draw taking anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes, depending on blood flow. Shermer said he aims to have three to four blood drives a week, but the donor center is open Monday through Friday. The center is only authorized to hold blood drives at military installations, ROTC programs and federal agencies, making it even more difficult to collect compared to civilian organizations, like the American Red Cross, which can host blood drives virtually anywhere.

As a former Red Cross volunteer and firm believer in helping those in need, Moore can't wrap her mind around why people don't give blood if they are eligible.

"If you needed blood, wouldn't you want there to be accessibility?" she said. "I know if I was needing it, I would certainly hope that someone would do it for me. You're saving a life ... And it's free."

The ASBBC's donor center is located in Madigan Annex, Building 9904. The clinic is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. Interested donors can walk in or schedule an appointment by calling 968-1903.

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