Keeping the Blood Flowing: Getting Involved in a Blood Drive
March 6, 2015 – As many people with thalassemia require lifelong blood transfusions, maintaining an adequate blood supply is of considerable importance to the thalassemia community. Below, CAF interviews two people – a person with thalassemia and a member of CAF’s Board of Directors– who have been active in promoting the importance of blood drives and blood donations for some time.
Liany Benedi has been receiving blood transfusions since the time she was two years old. She recently helped put together a blood drive herself.
CAF: You have been active in promoting blood drives recently. Can you tell me what you have been doing in this area?
Liany: I have been promoting the importance of donating blood for many years to friends and family through social media such as Facebook and Instagram. This past year was the first time I have actually put together a blood drive.
What made you decide to get involved in promoting blood awareness like this?
In June of 2014, I had an adverse reaction to a blood transfusion I received. Doctors told me because of the number of antibodies I have produced from years of transfusions, it was getting more difficult to match my blood and recommended I start a private donor list with exact blood matches. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to not only help myself but to help others with thalassemia and other blood disorders.
How successful was that drive?
It was a huge success. We had nearly 400 people attend and over 300 blood donations. The blood bank told us this was the most successful blood drive they have ever been involved with.
What did you think of the experience?
The outpouring of love and support from friends, family and people who just walked in off the street was just overwhelming. I was very happy I was able to contribute to our blood bank and help those whose lives depend on this blood.
Did you learn anything new from your efforts?
Yes, I realized that if you don’t try, you can’t make a difference. We are hoping to make this an annual event in our community.
Would you encourage others in the thalassemia community to get involved in raising awareness of the need for blood donations? If so, is there any advice you would give them?
Absolutely!!! You may not think so, but one person CAN make a huge difference.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I would like to thank CAF for keeping us up to date with the latest news and technological advances in our search for a cure. I know someday thalassemia will be a thing of the past.
Terri DiFilippo is a long-time member of the Board of Directors of CAF, as well as the President of the Staten Island chapter of CAF. Terri has for many years been actively involved in promoting blood drives on Staten Island.
CAF: Can you tell me about your experience with blood drives for the Staten Island chapter?
Terri: Absolutely. It began one day when my husband Mike met a football coach from one of the local high schools. They got into a conversation about thalassemia, and the coach wanted to know what he could do to help. Mike suggested setting up a blood drive, and we have subsequently helped to organize many drives here on Staten Island.
We typically use use high schools, colleges and churches for the drives; they’re ideal because you have a large population of people who can learn about the drive and who are physically in the location on a regular basis. With schools, we typically hold a drive in the fall or spring; with churches, we concentrate more on the summer and winter.
One important thing which I’ve learned is that many people may be uncomfortable about donating, especially if it’s something they’ve never done before. But once they can associate a face to the need, when they are exposed to a personal story about why donating can make such a difference, they are more apt to participate.
It’s also an experience that can really have an impact on a person. One of the students who helped organize a blood drive is now employed by Blood Services! He experienced the need for donating blood and has taken it to a completely new level.
Do you have any stories of any memorable events at a blood drive?
There are many, but here’s one. When we were arranging a blood drive at a church, we asked a person with thalassemia to speak at mass, so people would have a better idea of why blood drives are so important. A 77-year-old man was very impressed, so he went to his physician and asked for a letter that would enable him to donate. As a result, he was able to participate in several drives. This meant a lot to him, to be able to do something that could really make a difference in someone’s life. He has since himself needed transfusions to treat a health issue, and so he has been on both ends of the needle, so to speak.
What advice would you give to someone who was thinking about organizing a blood drive?
My most important piece of advice would be: Just do it!
You have to be persistent, because there is work involved; however, it’s worth it. It means a lot to so many people, and it also makes you feel better for doing something positive for others.
If you are in a position to have a patient come and speak to a group about the need for transfusion, it can really make an impression. When people hear about what it is like to schedule life around a transfusion schedule, and the impact that Cooley’s anemia has on a person’s life, people feel connected and are much more motivated to donate. Last year, patients or family members spoke before each mass the week preceding the drive at a church. After hearing the stories, many parishioners came out to donate. One year later, we did not speak the Sunday before the drive and we received half the number of units. Putting a face to the need and hearing the story is crucial.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank or acknowledge?
All of the people who come out to donate, of course, as well as the people who work so hard to make the drives a success.
For example, there is a young teacher at a parochial high school who taught one of our patients and her sister. He is an extremely compassionate and caring young man, so when we approached him about hosting a blood drive at the school, he immediately set out to make sure it was successful. Last year, they raised more than 80 units, and this year they are having two drives. And he hasn’t stopped there: he has since gotten his school involved in Care Walk and helped to raise thousands of dollars! We are speaking to the entire school at an assembly program to encourage them to participate in Care Walk and donate blood in April.
I also want to acknowledge all the brave patients and their families who come to speak to potential donors. It’s not at all easy for them to tell people, most of whom they don’t know, about their life. I appreciate their willingness to share in this public way.
What else would you like to say or share?
It is wonderful to see young people participate in blood drives. They are truly our future, and if they are enlightened about the needs of others, they always make the right decision. And when they get introduced to donating as young people, they hopefully will continue to donate throughout their lives.
CAF thanks Liany and Terri for their dedication and efforts – and thanks all those who have ever donated blood.
Information about donating blood:
American Red Cross Blood Donation Tips
Americas Blood Centers Blood Donation 101
New York Blood Center: Blood Donation Process