Fifteen minutes of your time can save a life. January is National Blood Donor Month, and local hospitals are urging residents to help fill the need for blood and blood products.

For example, the Level I trauma center at Saint Louis University Hospital uses 35 to 50 units of blood per day, says Pam Hunt, manager of the hospital’s blood bank. Most blood is used for trauma and surgical cases, she says.

Many area hospitals rely on blood provided through the American Red Cross, which maintains blood donation centers throughout the metro area and coordinates blood drives. Hunt notes that a Red Cross blood donation center is located two blocks from the hospital (4050 Lindell Blvd.). She adds that the Red Cross is able to transfer blood supplies from one location to another to ensure blood is available throughout the region.

Mercy St. Louis is unique in maintaining its own mobile blood collection system. “We go out and collect blood at churches, companies, organizations and high schools,” says Cheryl Barkhurst, director of donor recruitment for Mercy Blood Donor Services. Mercy provides all the equipment and personnel needed for a blood drive, and Barkhurst says the mobile unit is out almost every day collecting blood.

Because blood donation and stored units decrease during the holidays, both Hunt and Barkhurst say the current need is acute. Blood donors must be between the ages of 17 and 78, weigh at least 110 pounds, be in good health, and not have donated within the prior 56 days. Sixteen-year-olds may donate with written parental consent.

One of the most common reasons cited for declining to give blood is fear of needles. Barkhurst notes that she’s sometimes surprised that people with piercings and tattoos claim to be afraid to give blood. In fact, the single needle prick is very quick; and sterile, single-use needles ensure no transmission of blood-borne illness.

“I often wonder how I can impress upon potential donors just how huge the impact of donation is,” Barkhurst says. “I wish they could have been with me talking to a 12-year-old leukemia patient who said he feels energized after he receives his platelets.” In addition to cancer patients, trauma and surgical cases, blood and blood components (such as plasma, blood cells and platelets) are used for infants in neonatal intensive care and burn patients.

“The blood we collect stays in St. Louis,” Barkhurst says. “Your donation literally can save your neighbor’s life.”

To schedule a donation appointment through Mercy Blood Donor Services, call 251-4483. To find an American Red Cross blood donation center near you, visit redcrossblood.org.

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