Holyoke Medical Center Touts Blood Donor Center

HOLYOKE — Every eight weeks, when Steve Clarke donates blood, he feels a connection to his father.

Clarke is two pints shy of having donated 27 gallons of blood since the age of 18 — 10 of those gallons at Holyoke Medical Center’s Blood Donor Center.

“It’s been almost 40 years,” said the Holyoke resident, a retired sales representative for a truck equipment manufacturing company. “My father died in 1990, and it just makes me feel a connection to him, I guess. And I think he was proud that I was following in his footsteps.”

It’s very easy to donate blood at HMC, said Manager Joyce Shonak, and blood donations are always needed.

“There is no other place we can get the products needed for transfusion, except from real people,” she said. “For surgeries, oncology patients, trauma and accident victims … anyone who needs the support of transfusions needs to rely on other people to provide that.”

The Blood Donor Center is located on HMC’s first floor. “We’re right off I-91 with plenty of free parking, and we’re open during convenient hours,” she said, including from 7 a.m. through 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Upon arrival, a medical technician interviews donors about their medical history; takes blood pressure and pulse, and tests a finger-prick blood sample for iron level. The actual donation takes eight to 10 minutes; afterwards, donors enjoy juice and cookies while watching a large flat-screen television or talking to fellow donors. Donors are advised to avoid strenuous activity and drink lots of fluids for the next 24 hours, Shonak explained.

“Only about 5{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of the U.S. population who could donate blood, actually donate,” said pathologist Dr. John Blanchette, medical director of the HMC Blood Bank.

“The blood supply nationwide operates on a very thin margin. When you hear ads on the radio announcing ‘critical’ shortages, that usually means the supply is down to a day or less,” he said, such as around major holidays, during flu season, and summers.

Blanchette credits the experienced, compassionate, and detail-oriented Blood Bank staff for the stellar reports returned to them by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Assoc. of Blood Banks and the College of American Pathologists, who inspect the center biannually to ensure adherence to strict guidelines.

“We’ve had excellent reports from the inspecting agencies, and are one of the few hospitals in Western Mass. that have been approved by the FDA to accept donation of blood from hemochromatosis donors, who have an excess of iron in their blood,” he said of these “super donors,” whose therapy requires them to donate blood, which can then be used for HMC patients.

About 70{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of the blood transfused at HMC was collected from loyal area blood donors, said Shonak. Each pint collected is filtered to remove the white blood cells and processed through a centrifuge to separate plasma from the red blood cells. Several vials from each collection are also tested for viruses and antigens to ensure transfusion safety, she said.

“It’s wonderful working here because you get to meet the donors who are healthy and well and looking for a way to help someone else, and you’re also meeting the needs of the patients who need the blood. It’s very gratifying, making that match,” said Shonak.

To make an appointment, call (413) 534-2591. Parking is available to blood donors at the front of the hospital in lots D and E. Walk-ins are also welcome. Donors must be at least 16 years old and weigh at least 110 pounds; be free of major cold, flu, and allergy symptoms; eat breakfast and drink plenty of water the day of donation; and bring a driver’s license or picture ID.

Clarke recalled watching his father receive a unit of blood during his cancer treatment.

“I was already a devoted blood donor at that time, but that experience certainly cemented my future intentions,” Clarke said, before picking up the telephone to schedule his next donation appointment.

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