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Blood drives ramping up to meet shortage

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/10/2021 8:53:26 PM
Modified: 10/10/2021 9:09:27 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Until last January, Erin Buck had never given much thought to donating blood.

That was a couple months after her mother, Barbara Sykes, of Brownsville, was diagnosed with uterine carcinosarcoma and needed blood transfusions during the course of her treatment.

“I hadn’t been a donor up until my mom’s diagnosis, but I knew it was important and I think sometimes we kind of forget the amount of individuals who are in need of this,” said Buck, of Lebanon. She noted that it’s not only cancer patients who rely on blood donations: it’s also people who suffer from burns, other chronic illnesses or are organ donors. “Every one of us is touched by someone in those realms.”

Sykes’ diagnosis has inspired Buck to organize and host blood drives at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction where she works as the fitness director. The first one will take place on Friday, Oct. 29.

The timing couldn’t be better: The Red Cross is facing its biggest post-summer blood shortage since at least 2015, when the nonprofit organization’s current blood tracking system was instituted. It is possible that it has been even longer, said Mary Brant, the spokeswoman for the Northern New England branch of the American Red Cross. There has been less than a day’s supply of type O, which is well below the five-day supply the Red Cross tries to keep on hand.

“This time of year was always a difficult time, but in past years, once we were out of the summer vacation time, we would see a bounce back and we are not seeing that bounce back yet,” Brant said.

The COVID-19 pandemic plays a role. In March 2020, a slew of blood drives were canceled at the start of the pandemic. While they’ve resumed, the supply and donation rates have not been at the levels they were prior to the pandemic. The surge of cases due to the delta variant haven’t helped matters.

“It is a real challenge and it’s important to remember that blood is perishable. It can’t be stockpiled in advance,” Brant said, noting that a donated pint of blood has a 42-day shelf life. “That is why we always encourage people not just now when were facing this emergency shortage, but always we encourage people to make donation a regular habit.”

That’s one of the reasons Buck has committed to hosting four blood drives at the aquatic center. In a two-month period, Sykes received blood more than 10 times, she said.

“That resource was there for me and I want that for other sick people,” Sykes said. “There’s an awful lot of comfort that comes from knowing that the system has your back. I was shocked to be that sick but I was also heartened to see how the systems worked together.”

The blood drives at the aquatic center will be the first that the nonprofit fitness center has held in the nearly decade it has been open, Buck said. In addition to recruiting first-time donors, Buck’s goal is to encourage people to sign up to donate every eight-to-12 weeks. She was particularly startled by learning that every two seconds someone needs blood.

“That’s a pretty staggering statistic,” Buck said. “So we’re taking action.”

Brant said that only 3% of the U.S. population donates blood. Some barriers persist: People who have tattoos often assume they cannot donate blood, but that isn’t the case.

According to the American Red Cross website, donors must be age 17 or older, though Vermont and New Hampshire allow donation by 16-year-olds with a signed parental consent form. Donors must weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health, and additional eligibility criteria apply.

It is OK if donors have had COVID-19, as long as they are no longer experiencing symptoms.

There is also the time commitment that can make it difficult for people to take time off work to donate.

“Without it my mother would not be here,” Buck said. “I felt that I had to return that because I could. Because I’m a healthy individual who could certainly participate.”

Upcoming Red Cross Blood Drives

Note: People are required to make appointments at or calling 1-800-733-2767.

Oct. 12: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Courtyard by Marriott, 10 Morgan Drive, Lebanon.

Oct. 13: 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Springfield Elks, 49 Park St., Springfield, Vt.

Oct. 15: 12:30 to 5:30 p.m., Masonic Temple, 30 Pleasant St., Woodstock.

Oct. 15: 1 to 6 p.m., Robert E Clifford Memorial Building, 65 S. Court St., Woodsville.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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