Every drop counts


According to the Red Cross Organization, more than 44,000 blood donations are needed every day. “So many people need the blood,” senior Rosalind Spell said,“so why wouldn’t I donate?”

She looks at her arm as the needle pierces her skin. This is her third time giving blood, and each time it gets easier and easier. Every five seconds, she squeezes the pressure ball and looks at the bag to see blood drip in.

Finally, the blood bag flips a scale to show that it’s hit one pint. She’s done, and with that donation, senior Rosalind Spell may save three different lives.

Every year, the American Red Cross coordinates with different businesses, schools and hospitals to get others to donate blood. While every donor has a unique rationale for giving blood, 9.5 million people find a reason to donate to the Red Cross each year.

For families like the Ehrenspergers, giving and receiving blood has been something of a tradition over the years. Will E. Ehrensperger, known as Bill, has been donating blood since 1943.

Bill passed down the tradition of donating to his son’s family. Bill’s son John Ehrensperger and his wife Beth Sullivan have donated blood regularly for about 30 years. Recently, Bill’s grandsons Peter and senior Will Ehrensperger have followed in their families footsteps as well.

“It’s our whole family’s way of giving back to our community,” grandson Will said. “It’s a responsibility we have to each other.”

The importance of blood donation really hit home when Bill’s myelodysplastic syndrome, also known as preleukemia, took a toll two years ago. For the past 18 months, Bill has been a regular recipient of both blood and platelet transfusions.

“I am deeply grateful to the numerous donors who have provided the blood which has prolonged my life, including my son and his family,” Bill said.

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This recent turn of events has given Will a new perspective on giving blood.

“Now, I see that the blood I give can actually help real people like my grandfather,” he said. “Who knows, the blood I donate can be the one that my grandfather uses, especially since we both have type O blood.”

Luckily, Bill can get the regular transfusions that he needs because of blood banks like the American Red Cross.

For the Covarrubias family, however, things are not as simple.

Sophomore Simona Covarrubias’ grandmother, who lives in Chile, is in the advanced stages of primary peritoneal cancer.The cancer has damaged her ovaries for the last six years. Her illness caused her severe anemia, and in early January, she was advised to have a transfusion.

Unlike Bill, Simona’s grandmother, Maria de la Luz Herrera-Nerety does not have a blood bank that she can go to.

“Here in Chile,” Simona’s mother Paola Covarrubias said, “if you need blood, you have to bring people to donate according to how much you need.”

So, the scared Paola had to find donors, including herself, to save her mother’s life. Although she was initially fearful, “the fact that my mother needed it so bad kept me there,” Paola said.

Now, Paola looks at giving blood both in the United States and Chile in a different way.

“I know that in a certain way, I contributed to my mom’s health or other peoples health and that brought a lot of peace in my heart,” Paola said.

In the United States, there are many blood banks that supply hospitals with the blood that they need. When blood is donated to these hospitals, it comes in three forms – platelets, plasma and red blood cells.

According to Anne Winkler, Director of Clinical Laboratories at Grady Health System Transfusion Services, the method by which the Red Cross and other blood donation organizations take blood has changed over the years.

Recently, organizations like the Red Cross have been doing a specialized donation for platelets called plateletpheresis.

“In a normal whole blood donation, platelets from six people make one pint, which means the patient is exposed to six different donors,” Winkler said. “With plateletpheresis, you only need one person to make one pint of platelets.”

Although platelets are now taken by plateletpheresis, the other two components of blood can be taken from regular whole blood donation. The Red Cross separates the whole blood into different components by gravity.

Then, these donations come to hospitals like Grady Memorial from the Red Cross in the form of fresh, frozen plasma and packed red blood cells.

The shelf life for each blood component differs. Frozen plasma lasts up to a year, while blood lasts between 35 to 42 days based on the preservative solution used in the blood bag. Platelets last five days if they are in constant motion but only one day if they’re still.

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“In order to sustain the platelets for as long as we can, we put them in something called a platelet agitator,” Winkler said.

The platelet agitator consists of a bunch of shelves that hold platelets and keep them in constant motion.

“Usually we have three to four [pints of platelets] on the shelf,” Winker said.

Along with platelets, hospitals keep red blood cells and plasma in storage just in case. Although the universal donor for red blood cells is type O, the universal donor for platelets and plasma is actually type AB.

While hospitals like Grady have extra blood in storage, shortages sometimes occur.

“We especially have shortages in the summer and holiday season here in the south,” Meredith Forrester, chair of the board of directors of the American Red Cross Southern Blood Services Region said. “During that time, we have to import blood from other regions.”

Even though importing is helpful, sometimes there are shortages all across the nation.

“That’s when we have to go out and raise awareness around town,” Forrester said.

Illustration by Noah Grigni
Illustration by Noah Grigni

Forrester has had a special connection to the blood donation process since 1999, when she was one of the victims of the Buckhead Massacre. A tragic event where an aggrieved stock trader went into two piedmont offices, killed nine people and wounded 12 more.

Forty-four-year-old Mark Barton came into the Piedmont office where Forrester worked and shot her in the back. The bullet hit her intestines, spine, pancreas and two critical veins in her heart.

“[The doctors] told my family that I had a one in a 1,000 chance of surviving,” she said.

After getting rushed to the hospital, Forrester needed multiple blood transfusions.

“I needed 115 pints of blood,” she said. “That’s a lot, considering the human body holds 10 to 12 pints.”

Surviving this tragedy showed Forrester how important blood donation was.

“There is no question that the blood I received saved my life,” she said.

In fact, Forrester is no stranger to blood shortages, either.

“The scary thing was that two days before my accident there was a blood shortage,” she said. “If the incident happened just a couple of days earlier, I would be dead.”

Realizing that blood is the only difference between life and death, Forrester became a regular Red Cross volunteer. She has served as a board member of the American Red Cross Southern Blood Service Region for seven years and has been the chair for one and a half years.

To this day, Forrester encourages others to volunteer or donate blood to the Red Cross.
“It is our responsibility as people,” she said. “There is no way that I and others like me would be here without blood donations.”

The one pint that Spell donated to the Red Cross has the potential to help three people like Forrester, Bill and Covarrubias.

Now that Spell has given blood three times, she sees the effect it can have on others. She wants to continue helping others live by donating for years to come. “It doesn’t harm me in any way, and I know that every drop counts,” Spell said. n