Among cultural groups, Latinos tend to donate blood less often than others, according to USC Blood Center Medical Director Gary Zeger. But he has an explanation: no one ever asks them.
The Blood Center is now trying to change that by reaching out to the community around the Health Sciences Campus to encourage the habit of giving blood. Center staff members are partnering with community organizations such as churches, schools and government groups to spread the message, in English and Spanish, of helping others through blood donation.
“The blood needs for the Latino community are high, and the number of people donating is relatively low, ” said Zeger, associate professor of clinical pathology.
The center’s outreach efforts to encourage volunteer blood donation through blood drives recently earned a commendation from the California Legislative Assembly. The center was nominated by Assemblywoman Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles).
“This goes along with outreach programs at USC,” said Christopher Barrios de Leon, special projects coordinator at the center. “And the blood collected here remains in the neighborhood.”
One of the ideas behind the center is to provide from local donors all the needed blood for USC University Hospital and the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, even during traditional months of blood shortages. That’s about 1,000 units of red blood cells each month, Zeger said.
Americans donate about 12.6 million units of whole blood every year, according to American Association of Blood Banks. That’s about 8 million volunteer blood donors (including those who give blood for their own surgeries). It may sound like a lot, but less than 5 percent of those eligible to donate actually give blood each year.
At the USC Blood Center, about 15 percent of donors are Latino, Barrios de Leon said. “We’d really like to see it become about 35 percent.”
Barrios de Leon said staff members talk about blood donation at area schools, and have started forging ties with the offices of local council members and other officials to gain a presence at community happenings.
“A lot of it is education,” Barrios de Leon said. “We tell people about the process of donating blood. We bring down their anxiety level, and talk about safety. We assure people they can’t catch HIV or hepatitis from donating.”
The staff also addresses a few long-held health beliefs among some potential donors. “There is a superstition among some women that they will gain weight if they give blood, and that’s not true,” said Sandra Hibarger, donor recruiter representative at the center. “Men may also fear feeling weakened from donating.”
Hibarger said staff members provide facts about how quickly the human body replaces blood, and how much blood is needed by the community.
According to center officials, those who give blood should expect to spend about an hour at the blood center. They must be at least 17 years old, weigh 110 pounds or more and not have an iron deficiency. They must not have a history of hepatitis or cancer, liver disease or insulin dependent diabetes, jaundice after childhood, must not have received a blood transfusion themselves in the past 12 months, nor have engaged in high-risk behavior.
The center has new, high-tech machines that make the most of donated blood. The units separate the key blood components–platelets, red blood cells and plasma as the blood is being removed. Each donation is customized to the size, weight and other conditions of the donor, so only a specific, safe amount of blood is given.
Platelets, red blood cells and plasma may help patients with a variety of conditions, from leukemia to organ transplants.
And, Zeger added, the machines benefit those who want to set aside blood for their own upcoming surgeries at USC. Researchers also draw on the facilities for blood processing, and nursing students and pathology residents staff and train at the center.
The USC Blood Center is a partnership among University Hospital, USC/Norris and HemaCare Corporation.
For information on donation or other programs, call 442-5433.