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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC's Blood Donation Center wants you to lend an arm

UNC graduate Alice Huang donates blood at the Blood Donation Center at UNC Hospitals in June 2016.
UNC graduate Alice Huang donates blood at the Blood Donation Center at UNC Hospitals in June 2016.

The annual exodus of students from campus for the summer means the UNC Blood Donation Center is in desperate need of platelet donors.

Deficiencies in donations happen every break, but the center faces its largest shortage during the summer. Over the fall and spring semesters, blood drives provide the center with a steady stream of donations. This year the center collected over 247 units of platelets from a drive hosted by UNC’s sports clubs.

“Some patients need platelets every 48 hours,” said Trilby Norton, a recruiter for the UNC Blood Donation Center. “Platelet donations go to cancer patients, burn patients, trauma patients, transplant patients, so all different kinds of patients at UNC Hospitals use platelets.”

Norton recruits potential donors, markets for the center and educates the community, both on and off campus, about what platelet donations are and why they are needed.

The center provides many incentives, from pizza parties to movie tickets, for potential donors to take the time to donate. After donors give platelets, they are updated on the patient that their donation helped.

“We send people an email about a week and a half after they donate on who their platelets went to,” Norton said. “That's a really nice personal connection that you can make. You know exactly who you helped through your donation.”

While UNC Hospitals faces this drought predominately because of the lack of students on campus, it is not the only medical facility with this problem. 

“Pretty much all blood donation centers have issues just because so many people are on vacations during the summer, they’re busy, the kids are out and they have to be home with their children,” Tom Neish, the supervisor of UNC’s Blood Donation Center said. 

Donation centers face shortages during the colder winter months as well. Organizations like the American Red Cross have issued statements in these dry donation months urging more people to donate platelets necessary for patients' health.

“Last week’s massive winter storm had a significant impact on our blood supply with blood drives cancelled from South Carolina to Maine,” said Chris Hrouda, president of the Red Cross Blood Services, in a statement back in January.

Yet regardless of the weather, or whether or not you're a college student, blood shortages are a chronic problem that these centers must overcome, and platelets present an additional challenge of time sensitivity. 

“Platelets only have a shelf life of five days, and two of those days are used for testing, so there’s only really three days to get the platelets from the donor to the patient,” Norton said. “That’s why we need a constant flow of donors in our center.”

You can make an appointment here to donate platelets at the UNC Blood Donation Center.

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