A Life Saver

Nakia Latham stopped by the Community Blood Bank's mobile unit, parked near Ace Hardware of Vermillion, to donate blood Tuesday afternoon. Sanford Vermillion Medical Center and Community Blood Bank hosted two blood drives Tuesday. Ace Hardware hosted the third annual community blood drive in memory of Nick Nygreen from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sanford Vermillion hosted its annual All American blood drive from 10:a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The Community Blood Bank held a blood drive this week hoping to help with the historically low blood shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Currently, local blood supplies are at a critically low status, as the Covid-19 pandemic has caused an overall decrease in supplies by 50 percent,” the Blood Bank’s press release reads.

“We base our information on historical data,” said Ken Versteeg, executive director of the Community Blood Bank. “Based on that I can tell you right now it’s the lowest it’s been in 20 years.”

According to Versteeg, it’s extremely difficult to pull out of a shortage like this due to the long-term effects of blood donation.

“If we are sitting good one day it only takes a couple patients that use a significant amount of blood and we’re back to where we were before struggling to maintain some sense of normalcy,” Versteeg said.

It’s not just the COVID-19 patients that need blood, according to Versteeg.

“All it takes is a trauma like somebody that maybe has an accident on the interstate or something like that and uses 50 units of blood and that may put us into a critical situation again,” Versteeg said. “It’s kind of a teeter-tottering effect, everything remaining normal we’re ok and we’re able to hold our own but to address these accidents that come about unexpectedly it really does affect the blood supply drastically whereas during the summer time normally we can adjust and we have enough blood available in order for us to handle not just the normal surgeries but also these traumas that come through.”

“We need about 500 units of blood every week to meet the demand,” said Rita Nelson from the Community Blood Bank Donor Recruitment. “We supply 34 hospitals in this area. They’re at capacity of not COVID patients but regular patients getting surgeries done that they postponed in March, April and May and now they’re coming back.”

According to Versteeg, the local community has done its part well in the past.

“We find a pretty good response for people coming out and giving with the Vermilion community,” Versteeg said. “Our last large event that took place was our Heroes Behind Badges and we saw well over 100 people participating in that so that’s what we’re looking for with this large event as well to kind of help push us into the month of August and make sure we have what we need available.”

According to Nelson, 57 units of blood were collected in Vermillion this week which will help 171 patients and their families.

The drive combined the usual Sanford blood drive with Ace Hardware’s annual Nick Nygren Memorial blood drive.

“Nick was a very large blood donor,” Versteeg said. “He donated multiple gallons of blood throughout his years and this is the third year that we are hosting this annual Nick Nygren memorial blood drive event. We kind of put it together into one event because usually this summer blood drive event that we do is a little larger blood drive and we usually bring both buses anyway.”

When planning drives such as this, a large part is answering questions and concerns of businesses and donors, according to Nelson.

“The number one question is about safety and how we’re addressing that with social distancing and all of our staff,” Nelson said. “We’re requesting now that all our donors wear masks also. Is it still safe to donate blood? And the answer is totally yes.”

Versteeg shared some more information on the measures the Blood Bank is implementing for safety.

“The social distancing thing is still extremely important for everybody to follow and we are requiring people to sign up online or to call the hospital and schedule an appointment,” Versteeg said. “That’s the best way to do that and then we’re taking seven donors per hour per bus and that allows us to sanitize in between blood donations and also provide a social distancing for everybody who gives, making it comfortable for everybody and safe.”

According to Nelson, the social distancing does mean that there is more of a limited capacity for donors throughout the drive leading to a draw of 35-40 units of blood rather than 50.

Even so, any healthy person is encouraged to make an appointment to come and donate.

In blood drives such as this, Versteeg said it is also possible for people to stop by in person to sign up for a time.

According to Versteeg, the community can expect another blood drive at least 60 days from this one.

“We want to do more community blood drive events to improve the availability for people to be able to give,” Versteeg said.

He said 48 blood drives in the area have been canceled at this point in time due to the pandemic.

“We’re still experiencing this cancellation because nobody’s really operating on normal frequencies,” Versteeg said. “Basically they’re working through COVID just as much as anybody else is so a lot of businesses we usually go to are not able to host blood drive events right now.”

Nelson said a lot more of her time now is spent on the phone and emails reaching out to business owners.

“We’re just kind of winging it,” Nelson said. “I’m constantly trying to call our businesses and check in on them, when do they think they’ll be back, all that constant contact with our coordinators at different sites to make sure they are comfortable with us coming and having our staff come in and out of their building and donors come in and out of their building because that’s been a concern for some areas as well.”

Fortunately, Versteeg said they’ve been able to fill the void of cancellations through community popup events driven by local print and social media.

“We are so thankful for Sanford Vermillion and Ace Hardware I mean, to step up and host a blood drive,” said Nelson. “As business employees are all working from home, our locations are very limited at this time where the bloodmobiles can go.”

This particular drive provided incentives in the form of t-shirts and coupons for a free pizza from Pizza Ranch of Vermillion.

“This specific drive, we call it an All American event where everybody receives a special t-shirt but the added incentive of a pizza is new,” Versteeg said. “We normally don’t do something like that so this is something we added to try to encourage people and sweeten the pot and we’ve partnered with of course Pizza Ranch of Vermillion in hopes we can see more people come out and give and then also support their local businesses.”

According to Nelson, the Blood Bank is intending on continuing incentives at some future events.

“Next week in the donor rooms at Sanford and Avera Texas Roadhouse has stepped up and they are giving burger meals to everyone who comes into the donor room and donates,” Nelson said. “We’re partnering with a couple of restaurants here in Sioux Falls who are hosting blood drives and they’re giving appetizers to everybody that comes out. We’re just searching for those kinds of things and the little perks to offer incentives. We need something to get people out there.”

If nothing else, Nelson said saving a few lives is a great incentive.

“Within 30 minutes you help save the lives of three patients,” Nelson said. “That’s the easiest and most rewarding way to volunteer as far as I’m concerned.”

Even without the incentives, Versteeg reminded the community of the direct impact local blood donation can make.

“Our big thing is we’re owned by Sanford Health and so the blood that actually is collected at Sanford Vermillion comes back to Sanford Vermillion for local use,” Versteeg said. “The urgency of this blood drive could not be more timely. The need for blood right now is at an all time low so we’re definitely hoping for a big turnout.”

The Blood Bank staff continues to urge community members to donate blood whenever they can.

As Nelson said, “Come out and save a life.”

For more information on blood donation and future drives visit http://cbblifeblood.org/ or call (877)877-3070.

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