AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – You frequently hear the call to give the gift of life through blood donation from Shepeard Community Blood Center. Recently there was a critical need for blood and platelet donations. The community responded to the call, but the key is to keep the need from becoming critical again.

Brad Means: The director of Community Resources at Shepheard is Ashley Whitaker, no stranger to News Channel 6. She helps us all the time and is kind enough to give interviews just like you are now, Ashley. And I appreciate it.

Ashley Whitaker: Absolutely.

Brad Means: So, where do things stand right now? And first of all, let me just say this, is Shepeard the blood bank? If I’m going to donate blood at the blood bank, is that y’all?

Ashley Whitaker: It is, so we are a true Community Blood Center. We are the CSRA’s Community Blood Center and everything that we collect goes back to our local hospitals.

Brad Means: How do things stand right now? Are the shelves full, empty, in between?

Ashley Whitaker: We’re kind of in between. So we’re doing pretty good. The beginning of the year, we were in a pretty tight spot. Thankfully, all of our amazing donors in the community have come out and donated. What we’re asking now is for people to continue to come donate. What we need is those products to stay on the shelf.

Brad Means: Right.

Ashley Whitaker: When we have a huge surge, that’s always great, and we love seeing those full shelves, but we wanna see those shelves pretty well stocked year round.

Brad Means: When I think of the pandemic, I don’t think that there was a need for blood during the pandemic. I think that maybe no one would come and donate. Is that true? How did it kinda shake out during the height of the pandemic? Did people just not show up or could you not accept them if they did come?

Ashley Whitaker: So the pandemic, I imagine like a lot of industries, everything changed for us virtually overnight.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Ashley Whitaker: March, 2020, we started seeing hundreds of blood drives be canceled, schools closed, hospitals closed. So, we had to really try a lot of new stuff to see if we could get donors in, because yes, a lot of elective surgeries were canceled and that lessened the need for blood, but there were still car accidents and people were still unfortunately being shot and stabbed. And there were still children who’d need cancer treatments and platelet transfusions. So we still needed to find a way to get those donations in. And we got really crafty. We’ve really tried a lot of new things over the last two years.

Brad Means: How much blood is in one of those bags, a pint?

Ashley Whitaker: It’s a pint.

Brad Means: And how many pints might a typical person need during surgery? Just say elective surgery. And then, I mean, you could go to car crashes and gunshot wounds from there, how much?

Ashley Whitaker: It really varies. Bypass surgery, something like that, usually it’s about six pints.

Brad Means: How many do you have in your body at one time?

Ashley Whitaker: Ooh, that’s a really good question.

Brad Means: Yeah, you don’t have to… That’s probably for somebody else to answer, but five or six pints, one surgery?

Ashley Whitaker: Yes, and we’ve had stories of people who have thankfully survived, who have used hundreds of products. So just think about what that means for our supply and how quickly we could go from being in a good spot to being again in a really tight spot.

Brad Means: Yeah, it could fly off the shelf.

Ashley Whitaker: Yes.

Brad Means: What kind do you need the most?

Ashley Whitaker: So, normally we need O positive and O negative the most year round. O negative, ’cause it’s the universal blood type, it means it can go to anyone. O positive, because it’s one of the most common blood types, I’m O positive. And obviously the hospitals use a lot of it. But actually right now, we are in a urgent need of A pos and A negative, and that is a little unusual. It’s not very often that we’re asking for those blood types, but those are the two that we need the most of right now.

Brad Means: How do you know what kind of blood you have?

Ashley Whitaker: Well, we have everything on the shelf, we make sure that we inventory.

Brad Means: No, I mean, I’m sorry. How do I know what kind of blood is inside of me?

Ashley Whitaker: Absolutely. So a lot of people actually don’t know what their blood type is.

Brad Means: True.

Ashley Whitaker: So coming to donate with us after that first time, we’ll be able to tell them.

Brad Means: Is there an ideal donor, do you just need like a young, robust, healthy person? Is that the best blood donor?

Ashley Whitaker: Honestly, right now what we find is that a lot of our regular donors are in their 50s and their 60s and they’re amazing, they come all the time. What I would like to see is more people of my age, I’m 37. We need people in their 30s, their 40s, their 20s, who are relatively young and healthy, who are able to come donate. Those are also the hardest donors to get because we’re busy. We have jobs and families. So, but the have the lowest deferral rate on average.

Brad Means: Some people think that giving blood hurts and you go home and you’re dizzy and you have to get in the bed.

Ashley Whitaker: Yeah.

Brad Means: Walk me through the process, the timeline for donating.

Ashley Whitaker: Okay, I would say the anticipation is far worse than the actual stake.

Brad Means: Yeah.

Ashley Whitaker: Being on the bed with a needle, it’s literally about 10 of the whole entire process. You come in, we screen you. You can even do that online, the day of your donation to kind of cut the process down a little bit and do the questionnaire. You come in, we screen you, we make sure that you’re healthy enough to donate. We do a quick little mini-physical, which can be very helpful. And you can take that information to your doctor. When you go in for your wellness checks, then you come to the bed, they do the procedure and then you get a conduct bar or a cookie or a snack and you’re on your way. What I would recommend is make sure you eat and drink before you donate. That’s the number one thing that people fail to do and ends up for them not having the best experience.

Brad Means: And you may have said this, forgive me, how long is the whole process? 30 minutes?

Ashley Whitaker: Tops, yeah,

Brad Means: Okay.

Ashley Whitaker: Once you’re on the bed, it’s probably about 10 minutes of active donating, the rest of it is the screening it’s the after, so we wanna make sure that you’re feeling okay before you leave. But honestly, 30, 40 minutes at the most.

Brad Means: Is there somebody watching who cannot donate, who is not an ideal candidate for donating blood?

Ashley Whitaker: Well, there’s a lot of different reasons why a person may be deferred from donating, but I will say there are a lot of people, self defer ’cause they assume they can’t donate. And I would just ask if you have any specific questions like for a medication or something like that, to just give us a call and our medical staff can walk you through it real quickly. I will say that you are not deferred automatically if you’re diabetic, that’s one of the top ones we get. There’s no deferral for vaccines, including the COVID 19 vaccine. You can come and donate, and the flu vaccine. Those are the big things that we hear. As long as you are generally healthy, you have to be 110 pounds and 16 with parental consent. Those are the guidelines. Other than that, when you come in, the screening process is pretty quick and we can let you know pretty quickly if you you’re not eligible.

Brad Means: Let me tell you something. And you tell me if you’ve run into this, a friend of mine was in England in the early 1990s.

Ashley Whitaker: Yeah.

Brad Means: When mad cow was happening.

Ashley Whitaker: yes.

Brad Means: And cannot give blood, why?

Ashley Whitaker: So, that is a FDA deferral for travel. I have some slightly good news on that front though. So during COVID, the FDA did lessen that deferral. So, while unfortunately the UK is still on that deferral list for mad cow, Germany is no longer on that list. Neither is countries like Spain. So a lot of people who were previously deferred, a lot of our military personnel, they are now able to donate.

Brad Means: All right, that’s good news.

Ashley Whitaker: Yeah.

Brad Means: How long between donations, if you wanna really jump into this and be a regular?

Ashley Whitaker: 56 days or 8 weeks.

Brad Means: 56.

Ashley Whitaker: So if you time it just right, you could donate six times in a year. A lot of people though, it’s really hard to do this six times. If someone could just come three to four times a year, we would not see the types of shortages that we’ve been seeing with our blood products.

Brad Means: When I was in college, I donated plasma. I regret it, because it just felt weird, they take the platelets out, put the blood back in you. And I think I got like $26. Do you all do that? Do you extract things from the blood still? And is there a need for that?

Ashley Whitaker: So we do take plasma and platelet donations, as well as whole blood. Everyone who comes to donate at Shepeard, they are volunteers. And the reason for that, we can’t pay is obviously first we’re a nonprofit, but two, our products go to the shelves at the hospitals. The products that are donated at plasma centers, while really important, they go to pharmaceutical research. They don’t stay local, they don’t go to hospitals. But yeah, we do a lot of different procedures. There’s a lot of different tests that is performed on the blood to make sure that it’s safe before it goes to patients locally.

Brad Means: You talked about what it takes to donate blood. What if you do wanna donate platelets? Because those are life saving as well.

Ashley Whitaker: Yeah.

Brad Means: Is it similar to donating whole blood?

Ashley Whitaker: It’s a little similar. It takes a little bit longer, something that we do primarily mostly at our centers. It takes about an hour and a half to two hours versus that 30 minute timeframe. If you are a male, that’s A positive, we really probably would love for you to donate platelets, ’cause you’re an ideal candidate. Women can donate as well, but we have to do something called HLA test beforehand to make sure that you are eligible to donate platelets. But it’s a pretty quick process and you can donate platelets every two weeks versus the every eight weeks.

Brad Means: And do they put your blood back in you?

Ashley Whitaker: Yes, they do.

Brad Means: How’s that work?

Ashley Whitaker: I don’t know all the science behind it, but it does. And I have been told, I have not actually donated platelets yet, but I’ve been told that it’s actually a little bit easier on your body than doing the whole blood donation because they’re not taking a whole unit out of you, it’s getting cycled back in.

Brad Means: And where do those platelets go? Are those local? I know that they come in really handy when people need them.

Ashley Whitaker: Absolutely. So platelets, the thing about platelets is they have a very short shelf life, they expire in five days and we need ’em all the time. But platelets here locally, they are used a lot by people who are undergoing cancer therapies. And a lot of children and adults who are undergoing chemotherapy need a lot of platelet transfusions in order for their bodies to recover so that they’re healthy enough to fight the disease.

Brad Means: Well, all good things to know today, Ashley Whitaker.

Ashley Whitaker: Absolutely.

Brad Means: Good luck with everything you’re doing–

Ashley Whitaker: Thank you.

Brad Means: At Shepeard Community Blood Center, and thanks for taking the time to explain things to us.

Ashley Whitaker: Absolutely, thanks for having me.

Brad Means: We appreciate it. Ashley Whitaker, our special guest today on The Means Report.