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LifeSouth Makes Plea For Blood Donors To Replenish 'Critically Low' Supply

Jessica Palombo
Technician Ryan McGowan greets visitors at the new LifeSouth blood donation center inside Baptist hospital downtown.

Many Jacksonville hospitals are facing a critical need for blood – they have less than a day’s supply left on their shelves. 

That’s led the nonprofit LifeSouth Community Blood Centers to make an emergency plea for donors of all types, especially O negative. 

LifeSouth Community Development Coordinator Karen Patterson says her network supplies all the blood for Wolfson Children’s Hospital, Orange Park Medical Center, Memorial Hospital and all Baptist Medical Centers, in addition to others across Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

Patterson said once kids are out of school for the summer, people tend to give less. 

And she said the recent rainy weather hasn’t exactly helped draw shoppers into blood-mobiles. 

“Unfortunately, when people are at retail locations, they do not always want to take the time to donate because they’re rushing to their cars with their packages and their purchases and trying to get home, so that has significantly impacted our donations,” she said. 

Plus, in the summer:

  • High school students, which account for 12 percent of LifeSouth's donations, are not giving in school drives.
  • With summer travel, regular donors may not come in to donate as often. 
  • Hospitals need to build up adequate supplies before hurricanes or tropical storms hit.

Patterson said the “critical need” designation isn’t one that LifeSouth makes lightly.
“We take it very seriously when we have emergency appeals, and it’s because we truly, truly need it right now,” she said.

WJCT's Jessica Palombo holds her bag of donated blood.

What It’s Like To Give Blood

In addition to mobile blood drives — many of them on weekends — donors in Jacksonville can give at LifeSouth’s new permanent center just inside Baptist downtown hospital’s main lobby. It opened at the end of April, with an official ribbon cutting ceremony planned for June 14.

When I arrived at the center Thursday, technician Erika Freidly said, “I’m told this is your first time donating.”

She assured me, “It’s going to be OK.” 

After scanning my photo ID, she asked lots of questions, from the benign (“Are you feeling healthy and well today?”) to the intimate: “Received money, drugs or payment for sex?”

A physical exam included checks of my blood pressure, pulse and temperature, followed by a finger prick test for hemoglobin and iron levels.

After my hemoglobin reading came back too low, I passed a second test (Second chances are built into the physical process, Freidly explained).  

LifeSouth estimates 37 percent of the population is eligible to donate, but only 5 percent do. 

Next, it was time to sink into a big, comfy chair with a blanket and pillow for the main event. I chose peanut butter crackers from a basket as my mid-donation snack.

All in all, the process was quick: The donation itself was over in 11 minutes. The finger prick test was the most painful part.

But the potential benefit to patients is no trivial matter, Freidly said.

“You’re also saving three lives today,” she said, “because your blood will go to the lab and it will get separated from the red blood cells, plasma and the platelets, and they’ll go to three different patients that need each component."

Plus, she said, the more selfish among us might be motivated by a different benefit: You burn 650 calories by donating blood and generating new cells to replace it.  

The new Baptist LifeSouth center takes donations on weekdays:

  • Monday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Tuesday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Wednesday Noon to 7 p.m.
  • Thursday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

And many mobile blood sites are open weekends. Click here for a list of locations throughout the Southeast. 

Contact Jessica Palombo at 904-358-6315, or on Twitter at @JessicaPubRadio.

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP