Moving Blood Through Delmarva - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

Moving Blood Through Delmarva

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NEWARK, Del. - Giving blood may seem like a simple process, but what few really think about happens when their life-saving donation leaves their arm.

"I've actually never looked into it," donor Charles Seiferman said at the Blood Bank of Delmarva Headquarters in Newark. "I thought about it sometimes, but I've never researched or never asked."

For the organization to keep the blood flowing around the peninsula, donations from 350 people a day are needed to serve the 16 hospitals on Delmarva. Blood given at each center, event and mobile donation unit arrives at the Blood Bank of Delmarva headquarters in Newark, and takes an intricate journey before it makes it to a recipient. Christine Serio, Blood Bank of Delmarva's External Communications Specialist took 47 ABC on a tour of how blood circulates through the system.

The first stop is the Component Lab, where each donated pint is weighed, checked in and put in a large machine that looks very much like a washing machine. The pints are spun inside, a process that separates the plasma from red blood cells. A few machines and separation processes later, the blood heads to the Processing Lab.

"Here, we test for 16 different types of viruses, including HIV, Hepatitis and West Nile," Serio said. "We can also test glucose levels," which could be an indication of diabetes, or in one donors case, stomach cancer.
 
From test tube to tray, one machine to the next, the blood here is screened and tested in the state of the art lab, that was just a fraction of the size of it's current, spacious room.

"We used to have to walk back and forth and around corners," Serio explained. "It just wasn't conducive to what we were doing."

And what they were doing, and continue to do, is ensure the blood products are the safest they can be, right down to the molecular DNA, which can give much faster results for things like HIV.

Blood that passes these rigorous tests moves on to the distribution center, where it's packed and shipped for hospitals at a moment's notice. Donations that fail are held in quarantine for additional testing and possible disposal.

It's an entire life cycle the Blood Bank of Delmarva has facilitated for 60 years, and one Serio is proud to continue.

"Through out those sixty years, we've built a great reputation for a product that is safe and available when they need it."

But making sure it's there is a struggle the organization has faced through a trying winter, filled with snow storms, canceled classes and canceled blood drives.

We've been at critically low levels for a few weeks now," Serio said. "And luckily a lot of our donors who are very dedicated are starting to come in now."

When supply gets low, there's a domino effect. Hospitals often require a certain amount of blood on shelves before procedures, and could put off live-saving surgeries if it's not available. Without the supply, the Blood Bank would have to find what's needed elsewhere.

"Working with our network of independent blood centers, seeing you know 'Do you have a certain amount of blood of this type?'" Serio explained. "We purchase it from them which is of course not ideal, but it ensures we don't have a shortage, and we don't have to cancel surgeries." 

It's an added expense for the non-profit that recently changed its membership structure. Gone are annual fees - now replaced with a reward system. Donors can earn points each time they donate that can be exchanged for gifts like electronics. Getting rid of that guaranteed revenue stream has made the way for now tax-deductible donations.
 
The group also receives funding from grants, and fees charged to hospitals for all of it's blood products.

"There is a processing fee," Serio explained. "That is how we operate because we are a non-profit. So any money that's brought in goes right back into our operations here."

One precious commodity are blood platelets. They are used in certain procedures to help with clotting, and are in particular need by patients going through chemotherapy.  But, unlike blood donations that can last 42 days, platelets must be used within just a few days.

"By the time we take them from a person here and then we have two days of testing in the back here, within five days they have to be transfused," said Serio. "Hospitals are always in need of them, we're always in need of them."

Donors have to wait two weeks between platelet donations, making time even more critical. PRMC says it only keeps approximately six orders of platelets on shelves because to be sure none go to waste - testing and processing fees can near $500. But the hospital says it plans to have a platelet donation center ready by May so they can help others in the area also in need.

Back in Newark, Charles Seiferman finishes up his donation and gets ready for the rest of his day.

"I know it can be used by so many different people," Seiferman said. "I know it'll get to where it needs to."

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