Statement Addresses Ineligible Blood Donors, Discourages Competitive Blood Drives
Ineligible donors still able to help cause
Published: Thursday, February 6, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 6, 2014 09:02
After conquering her fear of needles, Cassie Hillen became a proud blood donor. With five donations under her belt, she was getting used to the routine.
Then last winter, the junior food science major came down with mononucleosis. In the midst of her illness, she contracted jaundice, a temporary blood disorder that causes bruising and yellowing of the skin.
Two months later, Hillen went to a Theta Chi Fraternity blood drive, but to her surprise, learned that she was permanently ineligible to be a donor.
“I was kind of sad because I like to donate blood and I was also a little disappointed because I didn’t realize that (having jaundice) affected that much to where you can never donate again,” she said.
The American Red Cross and the United Blood Services have extensive lists of eligibility requirements regulating who can and cannot donate. From medicines a person has taken to the countries someone has visited, dozens of reasons can limit people from temporarily, or even permanently, becoming a donor.
Dena Wyum donated blood twice in high school before heading off for college. She couldn’t wait to keep donating. But after several failed attempts, she kept getting turned away.
The senior human development and family science lecturer has normal levels of hemoglobin in her blood, but not quite enough to donate. She started taking iron supplements to raise her levels and continued to make appointments with the United Blood Services. The answer was always no.
Although she knew the risks of donating with low levels of hemoglobin, she still wanted to help the cause. But because of strict federal guidelines regulating eligible blood donors, Wyum and many others like her have given up completely on donating blood.
“I ended up being frustrated by always being turned away so I stopped trying,” Wyum said.
The department of Equity, Diversity and Global Outreach recently reached out, asking organizations and departments to include a new statement in all promotional materials for campus blood drives. They are also discouraging them from holding competitive blood drives.
“While NDSU is inclusive in its policies, current federal regulations prevent particular individuals and groups from donating blood at this time,” the email said. “Please be aware that some members of our campus population may not be able to donate blood for a wide variety of reasons.”
Kara Gravley-Stack is the director of diversity initiatives at NDSU and helped develop the campus-wide statement. She said that in recent years, many departments have sponsored blood drives, sometimes as competitions, that have been crucial to the area’s blood supply.
However, she said she has consistently heard concerns from those who are ineligible to donate, especially when the message is “Everybody’s encouraged.”
“Knowing that we have some members of our campus who would love to give blood but are not eligible to do so,” Gravley-Stack said, “that can be seen as a d e terrent for them and it kind of hurts a little bit.”
Aside from those who have contracted specific illnesses, some groups and individuals are permanently ineligible simply for being at high risk for certain diseases. If someone has been or is at risk for being exposed to the HIV virus, they can never donate blood.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that 63 percent of Americans with HIV are homosexual men. Along with being director of diversity initiatives, Gravley-Stack is also the campus coordinator for the LGBTQ program.
“We have heard concerns from people in the LGBTQ community, but that’s not the only community (effected),” she said. “That’s the one (group) that people will often go to first but there are a number of other folks who don’t meet those eligibility requirements.”
Gravley-Stack said that although the LGBTQ community is often the focus of discussion revolving around HIV exposure and the inability to donate blood, that is not why her team composed the email. She said they wanted to dev e l o p a statement that they were comfortable recommending to the entire university.
“We wanted to make sure we were being clear in it that we recognize that there are reasons that some people who might wish to give cannot give, so we were wanting to be general about it,” Gravley-Stack said.
Tami Kilzer is the blood drive coordinator for United Blood Services in Fargo. She said that only five percent of the entire population chooses to donate blood. Of that small number, United Blood Services only turns away 10 percent.
Strict FDA federal guidelines dictate the extensive list of eligibilty requirements.
“It’s for the safety of the donor and the recipient,” Kilzer said. “There really are no exceptions.”
University students and employees are not legally obligated to disclose medical history for any reason. Gravley-Stack said that for people who are aware of their ineligibility, being asked to participate in campus blood drives can be discouraging.
“It kind of puts the person in an uncomfortable situation,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to disclose that to people, but if I feel like I’m being pressured into participating, that makes a very uncomfortable work environment for me.”
The director of diversity initiatives and her team decided to go ahead with the message as an educational piece. Rather than approach the American Red Cross or United Blood Services with the situation, they chose to act on their own.