The newspaper headline caught my eye: "Blood drive aimed at giving more hope." The story grabbed my heart.
"At least twice a month for the past couple of years, Larry Mattice has been donating platelets to help cancer patients stay alive," it began. "He figures it's what he should be doing, since it's what others did for his daughter." Her name was Hope and she died in 2010 at age 21.
Hope Mattice was a certified nursing assistant with aspirations of one day becoming a registered nurse. She was also a volunteer firefighter for a local department in Ulster County, NY. "Then came the illness that would prevent her from responding to any more fire calls: acute myeloid leukemia." Throughout her ordeal, noted reporter Tracy Baxter, "family and friends learned all about the unrelenting need for red blood cells, plasma and platelets." Now they have joined with the New York Blood Center to sponsor a blood drive in honor of Hope -- one they expect will become an annual event.
The combination of Hurricane Sandy, the holiday season, and recent winter storms brought the region's blood supply to a "critically low level," wrote Baxter. "Blood type O-negative is especially scarce." That got to me: I have O-negative blood, called the "universal donor" because it has no antigens and is compatible with any blood type. "Blood center officials want you to know your donation could help save three lives." I realized I don't donate often enough. Larry Mattice donates platelets twice a month; I donated once all of last year.
"Hope Mattice would have turned 24 tomorrow," wrote Baxter. That was the clincher: Other than the time I donated blood for a newspaper editor who was my boss at the time, I never gave much thought to what would become of the stuff after it was collected from my veins. (The editor was a cranky fellow who always made it a point to thank me and marvel at the notion that my blood was circulating through his body -- just before or immediately after chewing me out about something.)
I need to make an effort to donate more frequently. According to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center website, one must wait a minimum of 56 days between whole blood donations, and at least 72 hours after donating blood before you can donate platelets. Platelets can be donated once in a seven-day period and up to 24 times a year, and you must wait at least 72 hours after donating platelets before donating whole blood. In any eight-week period, you can make one blood donation and one platelet donation or six platelet donations. I can't come close to that, but I know I can do better than I did last year. As Baxter put it, "Call it Hope's birthday gift of hope."
Meanwhile, I am curious about how centers handle matters such as directed donations and billing. My old boss was convinced that he was transfused with blood donated by me and other staff members. If I remember correctly, he also received credit on his hospital bill for donations made on his behalf. Are family and friends of patients encouraged to donate blood as a matter of course? Do centers still offer credit on the patient's bill?