Erie Community Blood Bank donors are making their contribution to the blood crisis

Bill Ditch jokes he’s doing it for the chocolate.

As much as the Millcreek Township resident may enjoy a Swiss Roll or a Cosmic Brownie after donating blood, the real pleasure is in helping others.

“When you retire, a lot of people look for volunteering, and that’s my way of volunteering,” said Ditch, 68. “I’ve just kept coming back and will keep doing it until they tell me that.” I shouldn’t do it.”

Ditch has been donating blood since 1994 at the Community Blood Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania and Western New York, 2646 Peach St.

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For many years he donated whole blood, the most common donation. But in 2016, he began donating platelets, tiny cells in a person’s blood that form blood clots and stop bleeding. They are most commonly used by cancer patients and others confronted with life-threatening illnesses and injuries.

“Since I’ve retired and have more time, I’ve been giving platelets because I only have to wait about a week,” Ditch said. “For platelets, they take the blood out of your body, then they take out the platelets and put the blood back into your body.”

While whole blood donations can take up to 45 minutes, platelet donations can take anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. Ditch found ways to pass the time.

Whole blood units are collected at the Community Blood Bank of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York in Erie.

“I’ve met (the phlebotomists who draw the blood) and we have talks about vacations and family,” Ditch said. “There’s a retired Millcreek police officer I speak to who comes in longer than I do, and every now and then our dates match up. I usually read a book too.”

Ditch has donated more than 30 gallons of blood to the Community Blood Bank via 242 donations.

When asked why others should donate blood, Ditch said, “It’s such a simple, nice thing, so why not?”

“No Substitute for Human Blood”

Blood donations, whether from first-time volunteers or veteran volunteers like Ditch, are always needed, but especially now that the United States is facing its worst blood shortage in more than a decade.

In January, the American Red Cross declared the first-ever blood crisis amid the Omicron wave. According to the press release, the Red Cross has seen a 10% drop in the number of blood donors since the pandemic began.

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At the local level, the Community Blood Bank has also felt the effects of the blood shortage.

“We’ve had so many days over the past two years where we’ve been walking around with our blood supply day in and day out,” said Erin Tighe, community relations specialist at Community Blood Bank.

Empty chairs await blood donors at the Community Blood Bank in northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York's Erie last month.

“Sometimes we have really great days where people are lining up and waiting to sign up and then there are other days where there’s a lot of empty seats and it’s difficult just because there’s no substitute for human blood.” , she said.

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The Community Blood Bank saw a 25% drop in whole blood donations from 2017 to 2021, Tighe said.

In the past, the Community Blood Bank would travel to companies like Erie Insurance and set up their mobile blood bank outside of the offices. But with many employees working from home, donations have dwindled.

“And a lot of places are understaffed, so we’re doing our normal blood donations, but we might not get as many participants because they can’t afford to have that many people off the floor or off their desks,” Tighe said.

save lives

While the number of whole blood donors has been declining, the Community Blood Bank saw a 29% increase in platelet donations from 2017 to 2021 as demand from hospitals has increased.

Since 2015, the Community Blood Bank has been able to count on Chuck Fuller’s platelet donations. Fuller, a Lake City resident, began donating with the Red Cross in the 1970s.

Whenever the local fire departments in Girard, Springfield or Lake City held blood drives, Fuller made it a point to be there.

Blood donor Chuck Fuller, 73, left, begins the screening process with the Community Blood Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania and phlebotomist Brynn Knapp, 36, in western New York before donating platelets February 28 in Erie.  Fuller is one of many longtime donors who make giving when they are eligible a priority.

“When I first started working in town, I would stop on the way to the stadium or after work and donate blood,” said Fuller, 73. “Then one time I got a card in the mail saying I I have a high platelet count and asked if I wouldn’t mind donating, so I said sure and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Since he began donating whole blood and eventually platelets to the Community Blood Bank in 2006, Fuller has donated 22 gallons of blood in over 176 donations.

He tries to donate platelets every two weeks to reach the maximum number of donations, which is 24 per year. As a longtime community blood bank donor, Fuller believes that donating blood is an easy decision.

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“It seems to take a national catastrophe for people to realize that blood is needed in this country,” he said. “I think, for one thing, people are just scared of the needle and don’t want to take the time.”

For Fuller, the reward of donating blood is worth taking up an hour and a half of his day.

“There was a little boy and platelets and blood saved his life when he was a baby,” he said. “A few years ago they had dinner and the mother was giving a speech and the little boy came out and jumped into her arms. It’s such a touching story that what I do can help someone like him. It just makes you proud. “

For information on donating blood, go to http://fourhearts.org/.

Baylee DeMuth can be reached at 814-450-3425 or [email protected]ews.com. Follow her on Twitter @BayleeDeMuth.

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