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Maui donors give 457 pints as blood bank battles shortage

With higher rate of O-negative blood, Mauians help boost inventory

Hawaii Blood Bank collection specialist Erik Zhang works with Wailuku’s Alyson Danford as she donates blood Tuesday morning at the J. Walter Cameron Center in Wailuku. Danford said she has been giving blood for 34 years. “I know that sometimes they need help,” she said. “And it’s something I can give. I can afford to give a pint of blood every few months.” — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

When Melissa Salvador learned the Blood Bank of Hawaii would be holding a blood drive on Maui in November, she didn’t think twice about scheduling an appointment.

“There was no hesitation,” she said. “It’s not every day you can say you saved someone’s life.”

The Wailuku resident was among the 452 registered donors who rolled up their sleeves at the J. Walter Cameron Center auditorium Nov. 21-23. The three-day blood drive netted 457 pints of donated blood, enough to potentially save the lives of more than 1,300 people, said Blood Bank of Hawaii Chief Operating Officer Todd Lewis.

Maui residents are some of the blood bank’s most loyal donors, he said, “and they boost our inventory of O-negative blood.” In Hawaii, around 4.5 percent of the population has O-negative blood, which is compatible with all blood types. Maui’s population has around 15 percent, Lewis said.

Salvador is one of those O-negative donors. She’s a longtime donor and has only missed one blood drive in the past six years. It’s an impressive track record, especially considering Salvador has a fear of needles. Her strategy? “I just don’t look,” she said.

Khristal Agonoy of Maui holds her completed pint of blood at the J. Walter Cameron Center on Nov. 21. Maui donors gave a total of 457 pints of blood during the three-day drive. Blood Bank of Hawaii officials say Maui residents help boost the inventory of O-negative blood, which is compatible with all blood types. In Hawaii, around 4.5 percent of the population has O-negative blood. Maui’s population has around 15 percent. — JEANNA THACKER photo

Salvador resolved to overcome her fear, she said, “Because I know how much good I’m doing … the benefit far outweighs a few moments of discomfort.”

And today, donors like Salvador are needed more than ever.

Like its counterparts across the country, the Blood Bank of Hawaii is experiencing a blood shortage spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. A drop in blood donor turnout and curtailed blood bank operations have contributed to the ongoing national shortage. As the sole provider of blood and blood products for all 18 civilian hospitals statewide, the Blood Bank of Hawaii aims to maintain a seven-day supply of all blood types, Lewis said. Right now, there is only a three- to four-day supply.

At the onset of the pandemic, the Blood Bank of Hawaii temporarily halted its mobile and Neighbor Island blood drives, and for five months, there were only four blood drive operations on Oahu. In April of 2020, the nonprofit began collecting plasma from residents who had fully recovered from COVID-19, but ended the program when COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out last spring. Neighbor Island blood drives restarted in the fall of 2020 and are now held once every four months on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island. Out of an abundance of caution, the Blood Bank of Hawaii has not yet resumed operations on Lanai and Molokai, Lewis said.

On top of maintaining strict protocols and procedures to keep its donors and staff safe, the blood bank must navigate logistical hurdles every time it coordinates a blood drive on Maui. The Blood Bank of Hawaii is headquartered in Honolulu, so all of the equipment and supplies are packed up and flown to Maui a day or two in advance, along with a team of 10 to 12 staff members. Once on Maui, the equipment and supplies are unloaded and transported to the Cameron Center, and three days later, everything is loaded up and flown back to Oahu. It’s no small feat, but it’s certainly worth the effort.

“We want to give everyone in Hawaii an opportunity to save a life,” Lewis said.

The need for volunteer blood donors cannot be overstated: Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. And a single donation — or one pint of blood — can save up to three lives, Lewis said.

After a blood drive, donations are taken to a laboratory where centrifuge machines spin and separate them into transfusable red blood cells, platelets and plasma. The blood products are then tested for safety, stored and eventually transported to hospitals across the state for patients who need transfusions. Recipients include surgery patients, accident victims, disaster survivors and patients undergoing cancer treatment, among others.

Of the Maui residents who signed up for last week’s blood drive, 70 were first-time donors. It’s a trend both Lewis and Salvador hope to see continue.

To anyone considering donating blood for the first time, Salvador said, “It doesn’t cost any money — just your time. Once you see the impact it has on your community and realize how easy it is to do, you’ll want to continue doing it. You’ll walk out of there thinking, ‘I just saved people’s lives.’ It will make you feel like a superhero.”

The next Maui blood drive is scheduled for March 22-24 at the Cameron Center. All eligible individuals are encouraged to make an appointment. (Walk-ins can no longer be accommodated.) All blood types are needed and will be used, but there is a high demand for O-negative and O-positive blood types.

For more information or to register for the next blood drive, visit www.bbh.org, call (808) 848-4770 or follow the Blood Bank of Hawaii on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @bloodbankhawaii.

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