By Gordon Williams
Photos by Heath Palen-McBee
The American Red Cross is very serious when it comes to its mission of collecting human blood. After all, there is a call for blood somewhere in America once every two seconds and 40% of all the blood collected in the United States is collected by the Red Cross.
And yet there was just the merest hint of whimsy when the Red Cross collected blood in Forks WA on a mid-September Saturday. Forks is a town of 3,800 people in far off Clallam County—at the northern tip of the Olympic peninsula and the westernmost county in the continental U.S. It is one of the four counties that make up the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas Red Cross Chapter.
For the fourth year, the Red Cross was there to collect blood as Forks celebrated its annual Forever Twilight festival. The festival pays homage to the four-book vampire-themed Twilight series by author Stephenie Meyer, which is set in Forks. Meyer isn’t from Forks: In fact she was born in Connecticut and lives in Arizona. She set her stories in Forks because, with an average 212 days of rain per year, and surrounded by the Olympic rain forest, it is the least sunny place in the country.
Visitors to the festival were told, tongue-in-cheek, they just might encounter a vampire before they left town. On a more serious note, they were invited to visit Room 203 at Forks High School where a Red Cross team from Vancouver WA was collecting blood.
“We collected 18 units of blood in Forks,” says Heath Palen-McBee, an account manager for the Red Cross Pacific Northwest Region Blood Services. The region is based in Portland but Palen-McBee works from the Red Cross South Puget Sound Chapter in Tacoma. His territory covers all of Western Washington, from Lewis County north to the Canadian border.
Palen-McBee admits he had hoped for more blood in Forks than his crew collected. No matter how much he got that day, still more blood would be needed the next day and the next and the next. To keep up with the unrelenting demand for blood from the 2,600 hospitals it supplies, Red Cross blood collection crews are at work almost daily all around the country
In all, around 6.8 million Americans donate blood each year. Around half have Group O blood (positive or negative) — the type of blood most often requested by hospitals. Those 6.8 million donors, by the way, represent only about 10% of those who the Red Cross figures could donate blood. The demand for blood is especially acute during the summer. Palen-McBee explains that many potential donors are away on holiday while increased travel and outdoor time leads to more incidents where blood is needed.
Palen-McBee came to the Red Cross four years ago. While new to the Red Cross, he was not new to donating blood. In fact, he estimates that over the years he has donated three gallons of his blood–enough to fill 12 one-quart milk bottles. “The opportunity presented itself to run Red Cross blood drives,” he says. “That is why I came on board.”
He explains that Red Cross blood collecting in Washington state has been going through a period of change. Patterns of blood collection that were put in place 40 and 50 years ago are being brought up to date. “Much of what we did was based on decisions made a half-century ago,” Palen-McBee says.
Blood collecting in Washington has focused mostly on the southern part of the the state. Collection crews operate out of Vancouver WA, just a stone’s throw from Oregon. That is changing, Palen-McBee says–a change brought on by the realities of where the donors are and where demand for blood is the greatest. That puts the Red Cross blood collection focus on the population centers in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties.
Four years ago, this area collected almost no blood. In the latest fiscal year, Red Cross blood collections in the region hit 4,000 units. Last year the entire Western Washington blood collection region that Palen-McBee manages contributed 8,000 units of blood.
Next year, blood collection crews will operate out of Seattle, not Vancouver.
If the scale of Red Cross blood collections was small at Forever Twilight in Forks, it was vastly bigger at Palen-McBee’s next collection event. On the day we talked, he was at Amazon headquarters in Seattle on the first day of what would be a five-day blood drive. “The goal,” he said, “is to produce 100 donors a day for each of the five days.”
Someday soon, the blood collected at Amazon (and at Forks as well) could save a life at one of the hospitals that gets blood from the Red Cross.
Schedule an appointment to donate today. Visit: RedCrossBlood.org
Betsy Robertson | American Red Cross
Communications Program Manager
Northwest Region | King County Office
(206) 799-3194 (m)
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