Increased Need for Blood Donors Over Holidays

Successful bone marrow matching program increases transplants

By Melissa Mollet
|  Friday, Dec 23, 2011  |  Updated 8:45 PM EDT
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Blood donations usually lag around the holidays, which is especially unfortunate this year, as NIH is using more.

Melissa Mollet

Blood donations usually lag around the holidays, which is especially unfortunate this year, as NIH is using more.

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At the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., the Clinical Center atrium is packed with a massive Christmas tree, a beautiful menorah and a pretty serious gingerbread house competition.

But just down the hall from all that holiday cheer, the blood bank could use a little extra love and attention this season.

“We are in an urgent need (for blood) … particularly in that week between Christmas and New Year’s,” said Hal Wilkins, recruitment supervisor at the NIH blood bank.

Huge success in the NIH bone marrow matching program means more patients are getting transplants. While the hospital usually performs two marrow transplants per week, in the past few weeks they’ve had 10.

“Illnesses don’t respect the holidays. These patients needed marrow transplants urgently and they couldn’t wait,” said Dr. Susan Leitman, of the Department of Transfusion Medicine at the NIH Clinical Center.

But with those procedures comes the need for blood and platelets, which are small cells that help blood clot.

“Without transfusions, they will not make it through this period so these red cell and platelets transplants are very much life-saving,” Dr. Leitman said.

All blood and platelet donations made at the National Institutes of Health stay on campus. The blood bank typically collects 30 pints of whole blood every day for patients undergoing treatment or recovering from transplants. But because of the recent additional transplants, right now they need 40 pints per day.

The donation process is fairly simple, made even easier by a plethora of parking spots, special security badges for donors, hundreds of movies and dozens of snacks from which to choose.

Terry Hill has been donating blood and platelets for 37 years. He’s been donating at NIH every month for the past six years -- since his now-healthy son Eric was diagnosed with aplastic anemia.

“It's always an emotional journey," Hills said. "This is where my son was healed. This is like the church where he received his second life."

The NIH blood bank is located on the first floor of the Clinical Center/Building 10 and is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Call 301-496-1048 for an appointment or directions.

If you have not donated blood before and are not sure if you are eligible, check their website to learn more about being a donor at the NIH.

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