by Pia K. Hansen

They are a bit tired of vampire jokes at the Inland Northwest Blood Center (INBC). Not because the jokes ain't funny, but mostly because they've heard them all. Last year, more than 22,000 donors gave almost 39,000 units of blood -- you do the math, that's a lot of vampire jokes. But it's also a lot of committed and tireless community volunteers, who fill a very critical need in this area.

"Many of our donors donate more than once a year, a healthy donor can donate blood every 56 days," says Dr. Judi Young, CEO of INBC. A minimum of 150 donors have to submit to the needle, every day, for INBC to keep up with demand from the 30 area hospitals, clinics and medical centers that rely on its service.

The trick is to get people to go that first time. Just the thought of volunteering for a needle prick sends chills down the spines of many people.

"We haven't found a way of doing this without using a needle," she says, chuckling. "I tell people to focus on the fact that they are saving a life. One unit of blood can go to three different people, that little inconvenience can save a child with cancer or a burn patient -- compared to that, a prick of a needle isn't that hard to take."

The INBC targets local high schools to get people into the donation habit early on.

"We get 13 percent of our blood from the high school students," says Young. "Once we get them to come in the second and third time, then they are more likely to have developed a life-giving habit."

In addition to blood, donors give platelets, stem cells, plasma and bone marrow. To become a bone marrow donor is very simple: they just draw two extra tubes of blood when you come in, and do a more detailed health screening.

"The marrow donors go on the national registry, and once there's a possible match, we call them in for the donation process," says Young. "Bone marrow can't be extracted and frozen, people have to come in when we need it. It's used in cancer therapy."

Platelets, which are being used to stop bleeding in a patient during surgery, can be donated via an automated process at INBC.

"It takes a little longer. People are hooked up to the machine for about one-and-a-half hours," says Young. "We let them watch DVDs and read books while it's going on. One donation like this is enough for one adult transfusion -- otherwise it takes six to eight donations of whole blood to extract enough platelets for one donation."

The INBC has been around since 1945, and in 2002 the organization moved into a brand new building on west Cataldo. This move allowed INBC to consolidate all its functions and offices under one roof, and it opened the door to the future as well.

"We have the room now, so next year we will begin collecting money for a stem cell laboratory," says Young. "Stem cells are bone marrow cells that circulate in the bloodstream, and they can be used in cancer therapy. We can also extract a person's stem cells and keep them for later. Currently, we have to send all this work to Seattle. We'd very much like to be able to do it here in town."

To do traditional fundraising is something completely new for INBC, but the organization has already proved very successful at it.

"This winter we put a new blood mobile on the road -- it's called Life Saver I -- and now we are raising funds for Life Saver II," says Young. That vehicle comes with a sticker price of $150,000, of which $32,000 has already been raised.

These blood mobiles are by no means in excess: 65 percent of the total amount of blood donated every year comes from the 50 mobile blood drives INBC puts on annually.

To reach these fundraising goals, INBC has just started a planned giving program that lets people donate money, insurance policies or property.

"There are people out there who realize we saved their life, and because of that they'd like to donate something to us," says Young. "This lets them give whatever fits into their scope."

Finally, let's blast a hole in a big myth: if you think INBC doesn't need your blood because your blood type is common, then you're wrong.

"If you are in group A positive, which is very common, we still need your blood, because we use the most of the most common blood types there are," says Young. "And besides, I always say that the rarest blood type is the one you don't have when you really need it."

The Inland Northwest Blood Center: 624-0151

Publication date: 08/07/03

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