On Saturday, June 30th Starrett City Tenants Association (SCTA) held their annual community blood drive in the Spring Creek shopping center’s parking lot in conjunction with the New York Blood Center (NYBC). On this especially hot day, the NYBC parked their donation bus in front of Boston Market where donors could be screened and then, if they are approved, donate blood.
Currently, New York State is in a state of a blood emergency. On NYBC’s website they state they are “one of the largest independent, community-based, nonprofit blood centers in the United States,” and they are pleading with all who are willing and able to donate blood because just one pint of blood could save up to three lives. Every three seconds someone in the United States needs a life-saving blood transfusion, which requires at least 40,000 pints of blood to be transfused each day. The NYBC alone requires over 2,000 volunteer blood donations each day to meet the transfusion needs of patients in New York and New Jersey hospitals.
SCTA President, Rebecca Caraballo, is animate about getting more people to donate blood because she underwent a transfusion many years ago due to cancer. Since she is not allowed to donate, hosting the blood drive is her way of saying thank you and giving back to the world. “In these trying times, we need more people that are able to step up and donate some blood. The efforts of people in our community are great, but I know that we can achieve more,” said Caraballo.
Caraballo paced in front of Boston Market holding a flyer, trying to get people to stop and donate. The blistering heat did not deter her as she conversed with residents about the importance of donating blood and the added incentive of free Mets tickets to all who donate. Some people went about their daily business, but there were a few who stopped and listened to Caraballo’s plea for donors.
SCTA’s blood drive has been going on since 2009 (they took a brief break in 2010, but continued an annual drive in 2011). On average, the drive has attracted over 50 donors each year. However, this year only 43 people registered. Of that amount 23 people were deferred because they could not get past the pre-screening. This could be due to high blood pressure, low iron count, infection, or some other criteria that a potential donor has not met.
Jeanette Morene was surprised when she was told she could not donate blood because she felt like she was in perfect health and is a frequent blood donor. However, the NYBC donor specialist informed her that her iron count was too low to donate and that she should try again another time. “I don’t under-stand why I can’t donate, I’ve donated before. I just wanted to help save lives, but I guess I’m glad to be informed about my iron levels. I have kids and grand-kids, and I would like to help others like they would help my family,” Morene said dejectedly.
The same thing was told to Shmyah Hoppie, who was hoping to experience her first time donating blood. “I’m so disappointed and I appreciate being aware of my iron levels, I just wanted to be able to donate blood today,” said Hoppie.
The screening process before donating blood can feel a bit tedious. First you are asked to fill out a questionnaire that reviews a list of medications and time frames that would make you ineligible to donate blood that day, as well as other questions about tattoos, foreign travel, infection, and other health information. Once you’ve shown your ID and finished the questionnaire, you wait your turn to see a donor specialist. At the blood drive, the SCTA put a row of seats in the shade for all those waiting to finish their pre-screening.
If there is room on the bus, a potential donor can wait inside for their turn to speak with the donor specialist. They are then asked questions about the answers provided in the questionnaire, while the donor specialist fills out paper-work to determine that person’s qualifications. The specialist takes a blood sample from the potential donor to check their iron levels and their blood pressure. These are usually the two factors that rule out a lot of potential donors because they do not meet NYBC’s strict qualifications to donate.
Sharon Brown is a teacher at IS 364 and also a longtime donor. However, she too was not allowed to donate blood during the SCTA Blood Drive. To help in the effort, she decided to stay and recruit more donors with Caraballo. In doing so, Brown helped galvanize several of her former students and their wives to donate blood.
Although SCTA’s blood drive only produced 20 pints of blood out of 43 who registered, all those who were able to donate did so because the thought of helping others made them feel good.
Photos by Amanda Moses