Story and photo by Randy Tisor
Hundreds of Fort Carson and Colorado Springs community members answered a call to action by donating blood at the Special Events Center March 13-14.
The temporary blood donation center was staffed and coordinated by an Armed Services Blood Program team that assembled at Fort Carson from Fort Lewis, Wash.; Fort Benning, Ga.; and Fort Bliss, Texas.
According to Carmen Dietrich-Williams, an ASBP blood donor recruiter from Fort Bliss, the team had a two-day goal of collecting 600 pints of blood.
“Because my team is small and we anticipate more than a hundred (donors) a day, I need additional personnel from other installations,” Dietrich-Williams said. She said the team usually gets to a donor center location a day ahead of schedule to set up and get on the same page procedurally.
Once collected, Dietrich-Williams said, the blood would be airlifted to Fort Bliss where it is processed. From that point, the goal is to have it in Iraq and Afghanistan and available to medical personnel there within four days.
“One of the challenges the military has is that close to 50 percent of the military are no longer eligible to donate due to previous duty assignments and recent deployments,” Dietrich-Williams added.
She said that anyone who has been in Iraq or Afghanistan in the past 12 months is ineligible to donate for 12 months following the deployment. Anyone who has been stationed in Europe from 1980 to present for a consecutive period of five years or longer, or for six months or longer if that service was prior to 1996 is ineligible to donate. The European exclusion is due to the difficulty in diagnosing mad cow disease and the possibility that some people are unknowingly carriers.
There are also other exclusions to donating, such as having a recent tattoo or body piercing.
“We do have a lot of screening criteria and that’s just to make sure our blood supply is safe,” Dietrich-Williams said.
According to Lt. Col. Susan Alleyn, chief of the Armed Services Blood Bank Center in Fort Lewis, with the number of deployments over the past few years, “it’s getting more and more difficult to collect blood. We collect primarily for the military. Ninety-percent of what we collect goes downrange to Iraq and Afghanistan for injuries over there. What’s left, we send to our military treatment facilities for continued surgeries for those Soldiers, and also the Family members if they need surgery or need blood for any reason.”
Alleyn said that the self-imposed limit is based on the amount of manpower that the medical team provides and the fact that it takes time to process each donor.
“What we try not to do is have long waiting times, because donors would have long waits. We try to get them through as fast as we can and still do the work that we need to do to make the blood safe for our recipients,” Alleyn said.
“One unit (of blood) is 450 milliliters. It’s equivalent to a pint. (A person) has anywhere between eight-10 pints in their body. A unit of donated blood expires within 42 days, so that’s why we have to constantly replace it.” She said the waiting period between donations is 56 days.
Ron Taylor, a retired small business owner from Colorado Springs, was donating blood through the ASB program for the second time in about a year.
“They need the blood over there,” Taylor said matter of factly, “so I figured I’d donate.”
Martin Omafray, a Vietnam veteran and retired Colorado Springs businessman, also wanted to play a part in helping out.
“Coming here, I get that sense of pride and honor and duty. I do this because it’s the right thing to do and it’s much needed to support these Soldiers,” he said.
Other donors echoed that sentiment.
“Every time (the ASBP blood donor team comes) on post, I try to make sure I give blood just to help the Soldiers and try to do the right thing for our county,” said Tom Jacobs, director of Fort Carson’s Directorate of Information Management. “It’s one of the small things we can do for what they’re doing for us.”
According to Dietrich-Williams, the blood donor team collected a total of 300 units of blood from the Fort Carson and Colorado Springs community.