Meeting the Challenge: Donating the gift of blood during COVID-19

Giving blood has always meant saving lives. In these times, though, when life seems uncertain, giving is more important than ever. That’s because people who need blood – for example, cancer patients, accident survivors and those with certain types of anemia – haven’t stopped needing it during the COVID-19  pandemic.

In fact, someone needs blood every two seconds. The state of Arizona needs 600 donations per day to match that need.

“We have several people in town who are only alive because there are blood donors,” said Kim Angelo, senior purchasing specialist at Northern Arizona Healthcare’s Flagstaff Medical Center. For the last 12 years, Kim has helped organize the monthly FMC blood drives. She’s also a regular donor: Her CMV-negative blood is like gold to patients who need this particular type, including premature babies.

“It’s important to me that donors know they make a difference, and it’s a beautiful difference,” she said. 

Angelo added that the pandemic has made it more difficult for the hospital to get enough blood donations. There are fewer donors, fewer beds and fewer appointments, as well as the need to keep people six feet apart while wearing masks. Many blood drives throughout the state were canceled.

Mary Hostetler, a 25-year hospital volunteer who works alongside Kim at the drives, urges people to put their fears aside, take a deep breath and just donate. Volunteering for blood drives is Hostetler’s favorite job, but she’s been sidelined for a time because of volunteer restrictions at the hospital due to COVID-19.

It’s not a scary thing,” she said. “A little bit of hurt goes a long way. People walk out with smiles on their faces because they’ve given something that people can use to save a life.

“I’m not there in the halls to recruit you, but do it anyway, because it’s good to do.”

Carina Fors, a senior donor recruitment representative with Vitalant (formerly United Blood Services), says people’s reluctance to donate usually comes from misinformation. Fors herself is a regular donor. Her first donation, at the age of 17, went to her brother in 1984 when he needed a life-saving transfusion of 67 units of blood. At that time, there was also a blood shortage – primarily due to the early HIV/AIDS pandemic. 

It was that donation that solidified her life-long passion for sharing the gift of blood. 

“People think that a blood donation weakens you, or it’s dangerous or you could catch something, and nothing is further from the truth,” she said.  

In fact, donating blood is beneficial: You get a mini-physical each time you give. This includes blood pressure testing as well as iron and cholesterol levels. In addition, through August 31, 2020, you receive a free COVID-19 antibody test and a temperature check.  

“I just really want you to know how important you are to our community, to our hospital, to the people of Arizona and even in other states when there is a crisis or tragedy,” Kim said. “And I want to support you, so you feel good about donating and understand how important it is.” 

Do you have questions about donating blood at FMC? Please call Kim Angelo at 928-214-3970 or Vitalant at 877-258-4825. If you are in the Verde Valley and would like to donate blood at Verde Valley Medical Center, please call Vitalant at the number above.