FARMINGTON — A recent drop in blood donations has prompted United Blood Services to recruit more regular donors.
"We are down by about a thousand donors compared to last year and down by 2,000 donors if we look at the situation four years ago," said Abraham Chacon, regional donor recruitment director for the blood supply agency. "We want to know how we can bring back those who used to donate, as well as how we can get new volunteers to donate."
Chacon and Nancy Cumming, the nonprofit's senior donor recruitment representative for the Four Corners, were at Piedra Vista High School on Friday for a blood donation drive. Both said encouraging young people to donate blood will be key to ensuring the region's vital supply of blood products does not dip down to dangerously low levels.
"This is the generation that will be our future donors, so it's important to catch them at this time," Chacon said. "And it's not just about giving blood. It's about getting them used to volunteerism."
Now more than ever, Chacon said, the Farmington area is crucial to the region's blood supply. The only other nearby UBS office in Durango, Colo., recently closed due to a lack of donors. That leaves the Farmington office in charge of serving about 130,000 people from surrounding communities.
UBS, which is the second largest blood bank in the U.S., is the sole provider of donated blood products in this part of the country, Chacon said. The other blood supplier, the American Red Cross, operates primarily on the East Coast, while UBS serves the rest of the country.
Further exacerbating the need, the Farmington UBS office is recovering from the holiday season, when many regular donors take a hiatus from donating blood. The recent flu and virus season has also left many people unable to donate, so supplies are low.
Cumming said one pint of blood can save up to three lives but donated blood is only usable for 42 days after donation. Individuals can donate blood every 56 days. She said one goal of the local office is to educate people about how simple and quick donating blood can be, and how this type of volunteering can be rewarding.
"People can make appointments to donate online, then they come in and do a quick interview about their medical and travel history. The actual blood drawing process only takes from six to 10 minutes to complete," she said. "We then ask them to hang around for about 15 minutes after that."
It's also possible to donate blood platelets, which are used to help leukemia patients.
One little known fact about donating blood, Chacon said, is it has health benefits, especially for men. He explained that men can build up extra iron in their blood, which can negatively affect their health. By donating regularly, they're able to purge their bodies of some iron build-up.
"I call it an oil change for the body," Chacon said with a laugh. "It allows the body to make new red blood cells."
Donation can also help women who have had hysterectomies or who are not menstruating, which can build up excess iron in their blood.
Karen ViraMontes came to Friday's blood drive at Piedra Vista to make a donation. She had been a regular donor since high school, but stopped donating until about two years ago. She said she's happy she has resumed being a regular donor.
"It's really an easy thing to do," she said. "I was able to fill out the form on the computer — you can either do that at home or at the drive and it makes it really quick. There's no pain involved and the (UBS workers) are very friendly and welcoming. People really need blood, and if you can do it, why not?"
To encourage regular blood donations, UBS has set up a points-reward system on their website. Every time volunteers donates blood, they accumulate points they can redeem on the site for items like movie tickets, T-shirts, Amazon.com gift cards and food vouchers.
Chacon said such rewards are a nice "perk" to donating, but knowing you're making a life or death difference is an even better incentive.
"That's the biggest reward: it makes you feel so good about yourself to save a life," he said. "If everyone would just donate three times a year, there would be no blood shortage. We're trying to get the word out that we're here, and we really encourage the community to step up and donate more."