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Mon, Jan 18, 2016 at 12:00 AM

This month celebrate lifesavers who donate blood

In January we honor those who literally give of themselves to save the lives of others. They are blood donors.

Blood donors are not decorated heroes, like veterans and soldiers. They are not recognized and compensated for their accomplishments, like doctors and scientists. They are not revered as are great philanthropists, like Bill Gates.

No, blood donors are a quiet army marching to makeshift blood drives set up in a Wal-Mart parking lot or in a school classroom. For literally sharing their lifeblood, donors typically are rewarded with juice, cookies, a T-shirt and maybe their name in a hat for a prize.

Still they come because the need is never fulfilled. Each year, nearly 5 million Americans need a blood transfusion. That requires 266,000 blood donations a year. That’s 728 donors every day.

In Marshall County alone, the two hospitals use more than 2,300 units of blood a year and 180 platelet products annually.

A healthy donor may donate red blood cells every 56 days. Sadly, although about 38 percent of the population is eligible to give blood, only about 3 percent do. The fact is that most people will need blood at some time in their lives.

Community blood center born

In 2002, at the request of 15 hospitals in North Alabama, including Marshall Medical Centers, LifeSouth Community Blood Centers began collecting and supplying blood in our community. LifeSouth is a 501(c)(3) non-profit community blood supplier for more than 100 hospitals in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

LifeSouth opened a main processing center in Huntsville and has established blood donation sites in Albertville, Decatur, Florence, Cullman and Sheffield.

Blood donated through LifeSouth is processed into different blood components and stored at the Huntsville site, allowing LifeSouth to respond quickly to requests for blood from area hospitals. Establishing a local operation reduces the chances of blood supply shortages during emergencies and holidays.

LifeSouth is a community blood center, meaning the blood supply collected from local donors directly serves the needs of patients in our community. The blood donated here will stay here for local patients. Only after the local needs are met will LifeSouth share our blood supply with other communities.

“You’re not just giving blood, you’re giving blood to a neighbor,” said Jason Hodges, LifeSouth district director for North Alabama. “You’re giving to someone you know – a friend, family member or neighbor – even though you don’t know it.”

LifeSouth considers itself partners with Marshall Medical. With two buses in Marshall County, 14 employees plus couriers who transport blood to hospitals, the company tries to meet the needs of the hospitals. In addition to being the community blood provider, LifeSouth picks up blood samples for testing and couriers are available 24/7 for blood deliveries. It conducts educational programs in schools to teach youngsters the importance of being a blood donor.

“We want to be part of the community,” Hodges said.

Growth at Marshall Medical means more demand for blood. The Marshall Cancer Care Center has increased the need for platelets, while red blood cells are essential for surgery.

LifeSouth created after government halted paying donors

In 1974, hospitals were in critical need of volunteer blood donors after the FDA curtailed the practice of paying donors for blood donations. Hospitals in Gainesville, Fla., agreed that a non-profit community blood center was the answer and made an appeal to their local civic organizations. The Gainesville Civitan Club was the only organization that agreed to take on the task. Members backed a loan with their own money to start what they called Civitan Regional Blood Center – today known as LifeSouth Community Blood Centers. LifeSouth is the fifth largest blood center in the country.

For the past 40 years, LifeSouth has grown at the request of hospitals in need of a community blood supplier. With close to 800 employees and an annual budget of nearly $80 million, the blood bank that started with humble beginnings has collected 4.4 million blood donations.

Please support LifeSouth, Marshall Medical Centers and North Alabama’s blood supply by becoming a blood donor and encouraging others to give blood. LifeSouth representatives are available to speak to social or civic clubs, churches or other organizations about sponsoring a blood drive. Call 256-533-8201 for information.

Rose Myers is a journalist working in Marshall Medical Centers’ marketing department.