On Jan. 21, hundreds of students once again will walk into UNC Charlotte’s Barnhardt Student Activity Center, flop onto the cots lining Halton Arena and let phlebotomists thump their veins so they can give blood.
For the last four years, the university’s annual blood drive has become a growing community event, causing a steady stream of students to flow in and out the doors from morning until evening.
Organizers expect this year’s drive to be bigger than previous years. Members of more than 35 campus clubs, organizations and businesses already have signed up online to come in and donate blood.
According to the American Red Cross, the timing for the university’s fifth blood drive couldn’t be better. The cold snap that affected a good portion of the country earlier this month caused the cancellation of 315 blood drives in those regions.
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That has left the organization’s national inventory about 9,300 units short for this time of year.
“It’s going to take us several days to catch up and make up what we lost during those canceled blood drives,” said Kara Lusk Dudley, spokesperson for the American Red Cross Carolinas Blood Services Region. “We’re just grateful that this blood drive is coming when it is, here in Charlotte.”
Mega-drives began in N.C.
University and college blood drives occur all over the country, but Dudley said mega-drives – events that attempt to collect several hundred units at once – first began here in North Carolina.
UNC Chapel Hill started the idea of mega-drives nearly 25 years ago, said Dudley.
Since then, N.C. State, Appalachian State and UNCC, among other colleges and universities, have joined in.
UNCC’s mega-drives have brought in more donations with each passing year. Their first one five years ago collected 200 units. Last year’s drive brought in 887 units. This year, organizers are aiming for 1,000 units.
“It’s such a huge undertaking to try and collect this many units in one day,” Dudley said. “It almost takes a full year … of planning to make it happen.”
Each donor usually gives one pint – equal to one unit – when giving blood. One pint can save up to three lives, according to the American Red Cross website. That’s because each donation is separated into red cells, platelets and plasma, all vital products needed for different medical situations.
Almost anyone 17 or older who is healthy and weighs at least 110 pounds can donate blood. Even 16-year-olds can give, with a parent’s consent.
There are some restrictions, such as for those who have traveled to certain regions in the world, or who take certain medications. The American Red Cross lists those restrictions on its website.
Takes about an hour
Donating takes about an hour. The donor spends most of that time answering questions and submitting to a 15-minute physical that checks vital signs and screens for iron deficiencies. The actual filling of the bag takes about 15 minutes, depending on how well the donor is hydrated.
The American Red Cross recommends drinking plenty of water the day of or even the day before you donate.
Students at Tuesday’s blood drive will be treated to free ice cream, T-shirts and the chances for plenty of prize drawings.
But Dudley thinks they’ll walk away with something even better: the beginning of a tradition donating blood to help others.
“There are students that began donating when they were freshman,” she said. “It teaches them something remarkable: that as a young adult they can give back to their community, and that they can then continue to once they leave UNC Charlotte.”