“Blood Vessel” on Deck!

Marauders dressed in scrubs are out for blood on campus, and giving away free snacks and T-Shirts?

You may have seen a colorful bus parked outside the OMN building on Thursday the 18th, and no, there was not any free candy. This bus just so happens to be one of thirteen mobile blood collection units (bloodmobiles) of Blood Assurance; a non-profit, full- service regional blood center. Docked in Dalton, Ga, these bloodmobiles are artfully themed with ironic and catchy monikers such as: Vein Train, (Choo- Choo!) , “The Donor Express” (Pony Express, not Donner Party), and the pirate themed “Blood Vessel”. Whose able-crew is a lot more savvy than scurvy.

Stepping aboard the “Blood Vessel”, I was greeted by wonderfully pleasant crew members; not at all like the grim vampires in lab coats I was expecting. Patiently, sat down in the waiting alcove with a Be The Match ®, a bone marrow information, pamphlet. According to the pamphlet: there exists an urgent need for ethnically and racially diverse donors of bone marrow. This is because bone marrow matching does not work the same way as a blood type matching; it is much more complicated. Human leukocyte antigens (HLA) are analyzed for potential matches among donors and recipients. Because the HLA markers used in the matching process are passed down genetically, patients are more likely to match someone from their own ancestral or ethnic background. This increases the odds for a person finding a lifesaving match within the bone marrow registry.

I receive clarification of this demand when I sat down with Jenny Stanfield, the Captain of Blood Vessel; she administers my health questionnaire.

According to Jenny, there exists blood type rarities within particular ethnicities that can limit complications with a blood transfusion or bone marrow transplant. She tells me there is a high demand for blood and marrow donations among the Hispanic community, yet this community also yields a very low number of donors for both blood and bone marrow. Jenny says this is due to a lack of public education and a limited number of English to Spanish translators to help educate and inform the community. Although there has been some improvement in getting the word out; it just isn’t getting out fast enough with the growing demand for blood and tissue in the Hispanic communities.

After the touch screen health questionnaire, Jenny hands me an empty blood bag and directs me to the blood collection area of the bus. I am greeted by Norma Nunez and Missy Chapman who promptly shackle me to the mast and begin to cut open various veins while singing a sea shanty. Well, not quite. Norma directs me to a luxurious first class blood donation seat where I assume a position for optimal blood drawing. Reclined with my feet in an elevated position. Norma, then offers me a choice of College Football T-shirts. I tell her, “whichever one will get me the ladies”, she laughs then hands me a Georgia Bull dogs T-shirt. Both Missy and Norma hail from Georgia.

I am no lubber to the blood donation process. Annually, I do my best to give up my vital life blood and have done so for many years. Yet the experience with Blood Vessel was a surprising one for me. I am used to the very cold and sterile mad scientist laboratory on wheels. These ladies run a tight, but relaxing, ship. More like a donation spa with snacks, and they are very adept with the sharp pointy things. The latter being very important. Not to mention that the ladies of Blood Vessel have a great sense of humor and we had a great time sharing stories during my sanguineous venture. According Missy the crew frequently gets called to return to many of the same locations, building a familiarity among returning donors. The largest group of donors come from High School students. The legal age to donate is 17 (16 with parental consent) and with six or more donations to Blood Assurance, before graduation, the student receives a Cord of Courage that can be worn with their graduation gown. Not a bad incentive if you decide to skip class for a good cause. College students, however, only receive the reward of donating and maybe a fun hour with good people out for blood and did I mention free College Football T-shirts?

The blood collected here is picked up and taken to Blood Assurance headquarters, across from UTC McKenzie Arena, where it is stored for use by local area hospitals such Erlanger and T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital. But the bloody mission of Blood Assurance’s bloodmobiles covers a staggering number of hospitals from Alabama, Georgia, to Virginia. So think: the blood or marrow you donate on board Blood Vessel can be used to save the life of somebody near and dear to you in the future. Just remember: when you donate be sure to grab a treat before you disembark, you may have to rediscover your land legs.
The mobile blood units are full time servicing the Chattanooga and Dalton Areas. For more information to host or find donation locations in your area, contact Blood Assurance through their website at: www.BloodAssurance.org

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