by Brian Lamar, Assignment Editor

Sam loaded the last of the Capri Suns in a cooler in the minivan. He took a deep breath of the crisp fall air and smiled. He was planning a road trip with his wife and two sons to Tishomingo State Park to hike in the forest amongst the cluster bursts of yellows and fiery orange leaves that had begun to turn for the winter. The start of the trip will be the last happy memory Sam has in quite some time.

Amongst typical road games like eye spy and traditional road trip songs, Sam’s six-year-old, Kevin knocks over the cooler just behind his seat. Distracted by the mess and sloshing melted ice water, Sam is distracted for a moment when a car in front of him slams on their breaks for a deer jutting across the road. Everything explodes into blinding flashes of light, the sound of breaking glass and screams. In an instant, the family’s happy-go-lucky day turned dark.

Emergency surgery was needed for Kevin after a life-flight to the nearest trauma hospital. A transfusion of A-negative blood was going to be critical if he was going to survive the surgery on his injuries to correct internal bleeding.

“Every two seconds in this country, someone needs blood. Thirty-eight percent of the population can donate, but only three percent actually do. If that three percent doesn’t donate, then rampant shortages come and people die on the operating table or in the hospital waiting for blood,” said Denise Smith, the American Red Cross senior account manager for the Mississippi territory.

Smith’s job is to work with businesses, civic groups, and high schools to set up blood drives in Mississippi from Meridian to Natchez and across the Mississippi Gulf Coast. “The only way for people to survive illness or injury is for people to come in and donate. There would be nothing that the doctors could do to save patients,” she said.

Smith, who dedicates every waking hour to coordinating blood drives, finding donors, and recruiting new champions to help her keep the blood flowing says that COVID has been a huge detriment to collections for the past year.

Out of the 20-30 blood drives Smith coordinates throughout South MS each month, the biggest donor sites are usually high schools where up to 100 units can be collected. The smaller drives that Smith coordinates continually through the year typically can be as low as 18. The donor goals are set by a combination of the previous history at sites and what hospitals are reporting in the blood banks.

“My goal for a drive is to collect a minimum of 25 units at blood drives. There are many rumors out there that keep people from wanting to donate. Many of the rules have changed. Rules prohibiting homosexuals from donating have been relaxed as well as the restrictions on easements on deferment times for people with tattoos.

According to Smith, COVID vaccinated blood is okay. There isn’t a long deferral for people who get the Phizer or Moderna Vaccines. The Johnson and Johnson live vaccines will have deferrals because they will use the live virus.

Besides misconceptions and rumors, a stigma surrounding donating blood keeps people too afraid to save a life. “A lot of people claim they are afraid of needles. I just ask people to think about the patients in the hospital who are laying there needing blood. Just a small act of bravery or sacrifice can literally save a life,” said Smith.

According to the Red Cross website, one unit of blood that is donated can be used to save up to three people.

“At this point, there is no way to chemically create blood. There is no replacement for it. When we have a blood drive and we miss our goal by even just one unit of blood, to me that isn’t just a unit of blood. That is three patients that we couldn’t save,” said Denise.

UPCOMING LOCAL DRIVES

Pass Christian

2/23/2021: 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., Walmart, Hwy 90

2/25/2021: 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., Holy Family Parish, 22342 Evangeline Road

Long Beach

2/19/2021: 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., South Mississippi Regional Center, 1170 West Railroad

If anyone wants to know where and when blood drives are happening or  has a question regarding eligibility, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or go to www.redcrossblood.org