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Donation center closure will drive up need for blood

Updated: 
April 4, 2015 - 5:29am

Retired Hawaii County firefighter Gary Sturdy has four 5-gallon buckets he keeps handy. They serve as a visual reminder of how much blood he’s donated over 40 years.

Sturdy, 65, hit the 20-gallon mark early last month. A fireman for 30 years who now lives in Kona Heights, he’s not sure how many lives his efforts have saved. But he does know that every pint he gave had the potential to save three.

It’s a fact he likes to share to try to get others to step up and donate the always needed, ever-precious liquid.

Blood became important to Sturdy when he was 16 years old.

“I had a buddy who was kind of a cousin to me, we’d hang out and play in the backyard, and at 15, he came down with a blood disease,” Sturdy remembered. “He was in the hospital several weeks and by the end of his life he needed several pints a day. They couldn’t keep up and he eventually died.”

“I asked my dad what you can do about something like that, and he told me, you can always donate blood.”

Today, Sturdy is challenging not just himself but firefighters and others to donate. In some ways, his effort to raise awareness couldn’t have better timing.

That’s because the Blood Bank of Hawaii is preparing to close down one of its two donations centers on Oahu. The Dillingham Donator Center accounts for 36 percent of the state’s blood supply, but it will close in the next few months because of Honolulu Rail Transit construction. Increasingly, the bank will be reaching out to the neighbor islands to help fill the gap, said Maura Dolormente, director of marketing for the blood bank.

“The Big Island contributes 8.4 percent to the state’s blood supply,” Dolormente said. “On the neighbor islands, they are so supportive. They are stepping up to make sure we have enough blood on our shelves.”

Whether its Hawaii or anywhere else — there is always need for more blood. Blood Bank of Hawaii operates with a four- to five-day supply on hand. A three-day supply is considered critical. Donated blood can be a lifeline for accident victims, mothers and newborns who have just gone through birth, surgery patients and others.

On neighbor islands, there are no dedicated collection centers and the bank instead relies on blood drives held at various locations. These efforts in turn must be driven by local community groups to be effective, Dolormente said.

While 60 percent of people will need blood at some point in their lives, only 2 percent of Hawaii’s population donates, contributing around 60,000 pints annually, according to the Blood Bank.

The donation process, with a mini physical and paperwork, takes about an hour — but the actual withdrawal of a pint of blood takes only five to eight minutes. The blood is taken with sterile, disposal equipment that is only used once, and all potential donors are given a red blood cell count to make sure they can safely give away one pint.

Seven blood drives were held on the Big Island in March. While nothing is scheduled for April, another seven drives are scheduled for May around the Big Island. The earliest dates are: May 11, from 11:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, cultural hall, Kona Stake Center; May 12, from 8 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, cultural center, Waimea Ward; May 13, from 7 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, cultural hall, Kona Stake Center.

To donate or for more information, visit the Blood Bank of Hawaii at bbh.org or call 800-372-9966.

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