Many blood centers give out merchandise to encourage teens to donate blood. T-shirts are a popular incentive, as are concert and movie tickets. But it seems such bribes aren’t really necessary. Local teenagers say they donate blood to help others.
Blood centers target young donors for several reasons: Early donation often leads to lifelong participation, and school blood drives are very productive, studies show.
“Throughout the academic year, students make up about 30 percent of our donor base,” said Wendy Mehringer, chief marketing officer at the Indiana Blood Center. “We have some high schools that do upwards of 200, 300 donors in a day, and then even the smaller schools, if we’re getting 60 and 70 units, that’s better than most corporate drives.”
First-time donors usually continue to donate on a regular basis, accounting for half of all donors, Mehringer said. If that’s the case, Isaac Danford and Ulani Williams have a lifetime of donations ahead of them.
Isaac, 16, and Ulani, 19, donated blood during a drive at Irvington Preparatory Academy, on the Eastside. Both said that they donated to help people, and each has had relatives who have battled diseases and needed transfusions.
“I’ve always wanted to do it, but either I was too young, or I never really knew a place to go to donate,” explained Ulani. “My dad was a cancer patient, so he would always get transfusions.”
Kevin Line, 18, an Irvington student who helped to coordinate the drive, said he has found a lot of support at the school. “We go around from advisory to advisory … talking about the blood drive — what students would be doing to help and asking who would want to sign up. And we hang posters around the school, telling where they can sign up.”
Ulani and Isaac said the experience was relatively simple and pain-free. Students under age 17 need a signed parental consent, and everyone undergoes a short exam. “We had to fill out some information first,” Ulani said. “Then they tested our hemoglobin and temperature and asked us some more questions and went over our sheet. And then after that we went into the chair and we got stabbed with a needle.”
Mehringer said that blood centers deliberately draw less blood from students due to “the difference in body mass between a 16- or 17-year-old and a 45-year-old.” This means that the students’ bodies don’t need to replenish as much blood, and it decreases the likelihood of ill effects such as dizziness or fainting. Students are encouraged to not skip any meals and drink plenty of fluid. They also are offered snacks and drinks before donation.
She said the blood center sees comparatively few negative reactions from the hundreds of young donors they recruit. The most common is dizziness.
Kevin says he saw some dizzy students at his blood drive. “They were going to get their food, to get their blood sugar back up. They were walking over, and they just had to sit down for a minute because they got really light-headed.”
Isaac was one of them. “I was really, really dizzy,” he recalled.
The blood center takes many precautions to deal with such incidents. “Our refresh area post-donation is done on gym mats rather than tables and chairs, allowing donors to be more comfortable,” Mehringer said. “Also, we assign a staff person to stay at the school after the blood drive to answer student questions and properly handle any light reactions that may occur.”
The Indiana Blood Center has nine centers throughout the state, in addition to the bloodmobiles which set up at various locations. Some donated blood is used to replace that lost from severe trauma, like car accidents or gunshot wounds, but most is used for cancer treatment and planned surgeries. All blood collected by the Indiana Blood Center stays in Indiana, Mehringer said.
Kevin was pleased with the turnout from students, and more drives are planned. “Some people do it because they can get free food out of it…(or) to get their points for the National Honor Society, to get their service project done.” However, he said most teens didn’t need any kind of incentive to donate.
Isaac and Ulani plan to continue to give blood. Ulani intends to donate every time there is a blood drive, and Isaac wants to donate plasma when he turns 18.
Donation is win-win, Mehringer said. “You feel better about yourself after you’ve done it. It takes an hour of your time, no cost involved. And it’s something you can do to give back.”
Contributing to this story are assistant editors Sam Clark, 14, Sam Gabovitch, 14, and Ben Lahr, 14, and reporter Allison Albrecht, 12.
Copyright 2011 Y-Press