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Saving lives, one pint at a time

UC Irvine Medical Center patient Juanita Miller and her two daughters, Rachel and Alexa.
UC Irvine Healthcare Marketing and Communications
Juanita Miller, shown with daughters Rachel, 7, and Alexa, 5, receives regular platelet transfusions as part of her treatment for leukemia at UC Irvine Medical Center.

The reasons for donating blood vary, but the need and impact never change

Many people plan to donate their organs after they die. But Sandra Molina wants to save lives now—by donating blood: “You don’t need to die to help save a life.”

Each pint of blood donated can save as many as three lives, say experts at UC Irvine's Blood Donor Center. There are four types of products that can be derived from one blood donation: red cells, platelets, plasma and cryoprecipitate. Generally, up to three of these four products are derived from a single pint of donated blood.

Molina's life is one of those saved by blood donations. In November 2009, Molina’s physician at a community hospital performed a routine procedure to remove a growth in her uterus. At home a few hours later, she began hemorrhaging and was rushed to a local emergency room.

“I was bleeding to death, basically,” the Corona mother of two recalls.

By the time Molina was transferred to UC Irvine Medical Center, which has Orange County’s only Level I trauma center, she had lost more than two pints of blood and needed a transfusion. Molina said it turned out that her colon and a major artery had been punctured during the uterine procedure.

“You never know when you’re going to need a blood transfusion,” cautions Molina, who is now a regular donor herself. “Now that something has happened to me, I give blood happily. After everything I went through, needles are nothing.”

Many people give blood even though they haven’t needed a transfusion themselves.

Gay Serway, director of special projects at UC Irvine Medical Center, is the kind of dedicated donor that blood banks rely on to meet critical community needs. She began donating blood and platelets at the medical center 25 years ago after witnessing firsthand the critical need for blood in cancer patients. “I have to do something to help,” she recalls thinking.

Earlier this year, Serway made her 200th platelet donation. She also has donated five gallons of whole blood—the equivalent of 40 donations, once every 56 days.

“For me, every donation is my way of volunteering, of living compassion for unknown others in their greatest moment of need,” Serway says.

Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs a transfusion of blood, according to the American Red Cross. Premature infants often need blood transfusions to survive and one traffic accident patient may require as much as 100 pints. Blood cannot be manufactured; it must come from donations.

The reality, however, is that Molina and Serway are among the minority of Americans who donate blood. According to the American Red Cross, 60 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, yet only 5 percent of people actually do.

In Orange County, the numbers are similar: fewer than 5 percent of residents donate blood, yet most of the population will need a blood transfusion at some point in their lifetime, according to the Blood Donor Center at UC Irvine Medical Center.

The reasons people don’t give blood vary, according to surveys. The most common reason cited for not donating is a fear of needles. Seventeen percent of non-donors say they’ve never thought about donating, while 15 percent say they’re too busy. The process of donating whole blood is actually fairly quick, painless and easy: it takes about 45 minutes from start to finish, and that time could buy a blood recipient years of life.

Many cancer patients need regular transfusions to replace red blood cells or platelets damaged by chemotherapy. Juanita Miller, who was diagnosed with leukemia in June 2011, was transferred to UC Irvine from a community hospital with a dangerously low platelet count. The married mother of two would have died if she had not received blood and platelets.

“I wouldn’t be alive,” says Miller, who continues to receive transfusions as part of her treatment. “I get emotional when I think about somebody putting in their time and their body. I’ve got a piece of so many people in my body. That’s an amazing thing to me.”

The Campus Donor Center is located in the Student Center. Its hours of operation are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays; noon-7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Fridays. For more information, call 949.824.2662 or visit www.healthcare.uci.edu/ibleedblue.

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