Riverbend Awareness Project

The Red Cross is widely known as a nonprofit organization often involved with blood donation. And in our very first episode we had the pleasure of talking to Angela Ragan, an account manager for the Idaho Falls Red Cross. Learn how powerful blood donors really are and why constant, and consistent blood donations are so vital.

For resources mentioned in the episode see the links below.

Donating Blood With The Red Cross
Red Crosses Blood Donor App
Common Blood Donation Concerns 
Statistic About National Blood donor month

Show Notes

The Red Cross is widely known as a nonprofit organization often involved with blood donation. And in our very first episode we had the pleasure of talking to Angela Ragan, an account manager for the Idaho Falls Red Cross. Learn how powerful blood donors really are and why constant, and consistent blood donations are so vital.

For resources mentioned in the episode see the links below.

Donating Blood With The Red Cross
Red Crosses Blood Donor App
Common Blood Donation Concerns
Statistic About National Blood donor month

What is Riverbend Awareness Project?

The Riverbend Awareness Project brings you a new conversation each month about important causes and issues in our community. Every month of 2024 we will sit down and have a conversation with a professional from our community about significant issues like heart health, Alzheimer’s, literacy, and more. We’ll then share that conversation with you on the Riverbend Awareness Project Podcast, with the goal of sharing resources, and information that will help you have a better understanding of the particular problems, and solutions, associated with each topic.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this podcast episode are solely those of the individuals participating and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Riverbend Media Group or the Riverbend Awareness Project, its affiliates, or its employees. It is important to note that the discussion presented is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Listeners are encouraged to consult with qualified health care professionals for any medical concerns or decisions. The Riverbend Awareness Project is a product of Riverbend Media Group.

Russell: Hey. I'm Russell.

Melissa: And I'm Melissa.

Russell: Thanks for joining us on the Riverbend Awareness Project. Each month, we dive into a topic our community is affected by and explore how you can help.

Melissa: This month, we're talking about blood donor awareness.

Russell: Here in the studio, we have Angela Ragan. Angela Ragan is an account manager for the Red Cross. Angela, can you tell us a little bit about what you do in that role?

Angela: I work in the donor relations department, in the biomedical side of the Red Cross. And so what I do is I go out into the community and work with businesses and organizations to and recruit them to host blood drives in their area, and then I also help them once they do agree to have a blood drive. I help them recruit donors.

Melissa: How do you, I guess, how do you go about recruiting businesses to have a blood drive?

Angela: Well, the you know, there's a lot of different ways. I am active in the community, so I reach out to organizations such as the Chamber, Rotary, Civitan's. I go and I talk to church organizations. I go into high schools. We have wonderful programs at the high school level for the schools to host blood drives and also for students during times when school is not in session to have blood drives. So it's really just going out in the community and talking about how important it is to host blood drives and to donate blood.

Melissa: So what would someone need to know before donating blood? What are the things that you would share with them?

Angela: You need to know, like, your height and weight, of course, because you do have to have a certain amount of muscle mass and enough blood volume in order to be able to donate. Particular with young girls, you do have to be at least 5 foot 1 and over 110 pounds. It's a sliding scale, so you could be taller, weigh less, and still not qualify or vice versa. It is important to know your list of medications because there is a lot of different medications that can affect your ability to donate. And pretty much whatever the local requirements are in the state of Idaho, 16 year olds must have parental consent. 17 years and up can donate.

Russell: So what are some common misconceptions with donating blood?

Angela: A lot of people think if they've had cancer or chronic illnesses that they can't donate. But for instance, if you've had cancer, as long as you're 1 year away from your last treatment and considered in remission or cured, you can donate unless it, of course, it was a blood cancer such as lymphoma, leukemia that can actually live in the bloodstream. If you have chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, certain heart conditions, as long as it's well controlled, you can still donate. A lot of people think if they lived in the UK in the eighties that they cannot donate because that was true up until a couple years ago. Because of Jacob Krussoff's disease, which is commonly known as mad cow disease. But those restrictions have been lifted now, and you can donate.

Russell: It's so cool to see how how new technology informs us and helps us make better decisions for donating blood. Like, maybe it was just enough time had passed since the eighties, but also maybe the technology got better. Can you speak to any of that?

Angela: Oh, I don't. I think in the case of the mad cow, it really wasn't so much the testing because if my understanding is that that's something that really can't be tested for, can't be detected. I think in that one, it's more or less more about time passage. However, there are a lot of testing that has gotten better in the past few years. Many people that previously were deferred or deferred for longer periods of time can now donate, such as it used to be you had to wait 6 months if you'd had tattoo or piercing, and now you only have to wait 90 days in the state of Idaho.

There's a lot of blood diseases. We are able to detect more about the blood. We know a lot more about blood than we used to, and everybody knows about the different types of blood, O and A and B and AB, but there are a lot of subgroups antigens, and so there are people who have to have frequent transfusions. It is better if they have blood that matches their own more, so such as a sickle cell patient. We want donors that are C, N, and K antigen negative in order to donate blood. And so we're able to test and get more compatible blood. That sounds like a really long answer. I don't know.

Russell: That's cool, though. I love to hear about that.

Melissa: That's really interesting. You talked about blood types. What's the importance of having those different types, and how do the different types of blood help differently? Like, how do they serve people differently?

Angela: Your body can recognize blood as a foreign object and actually reject it like it would an organ in an organ transplant. And that's why it's important to, you know, to have the same blood type. People who have O negative blood, they're the universal donor. Every blood type can accept O negative. However, people with O negative blood can only have O negative blood because your body recognizes it and rejects it. And then there are some, like, subgroups. There's some very rare blood types that sometimes somebody will have a blood disease and they'll be identified, they'll need transfusions. If someone comes up with this really rare blood type, they will save and have not donate until somebody with that needs that specific type of blood. They will call on them to come donate. It makes it in really interesting.

There's also a very common virus that we all have that, like, 90% of the population has. If somebody is negative for this particular virus in their own blood, they call it baby blood, and they like to have this blood for preemies because this virus won't hurt most people. It's just real common and and we deal with it, but preemies can suffer a little bit if they have this. So some people will say, "I have baby blood," and they save their blood to go to preemies. When you have to have frequent blood transfusions, even if it's the same blood type, you're more likely to have rejections. So it's important for some for people who need frequent blood transfusions. Sickle cell is a really good example to have somebody with a closest genetic background as you, because you tend to have the same blood traits. And in that case with sickle cell, we're looking for C, N, and K negative antigens in the blood. And so I would say it's important for everyone to get out and donate.

Russell: You've used the word reject. What does that mean exactly?

Angela: We should think about, you know, when you have an organ transplant, your body will reject it unless you take anti-rejection drugs.

Russell: Mhmm.

Angela: But the same thing can happen with blood. Your body can recognize it as not your own, as a foreign object, and it will send antibodies to fight it, and it will make you ill.

Melissa: I was about to say, does it make you sick?

Angela: Yeah. And that's why, you know, you don't give an A positive person B positive blood. It's because the body recognizes it easier as not its own.

Russell: So when when you guys get a blood donation, how is that blood donation used? You said that some people, you'll keep their contact information and then call them when you need that specific blood, right, for the super rare bloods. So how do you guys store blood? How are you able to use it later? How does that all work?

Angela: Blood can only be saved for 42 days. It cannot be manufactured. It has to come from a live donor. So when we take in a blood donation, we're part of Idaho Montana region. It goes to our lab in Great Falls, Montana for testing for diseases, that type of thing, and then it's redistributed in our area.

So when you donate blood, we meet our community needs first. And then if there's shortage in other areas, say there's bad weather, you know, illness outbreak, natural disasters, we will ship blood from our region to other regions to help them with shortfalls. So that's how blood is used as far as collections and redistribution. So if you're asking more like, how do we use blood once we collect it? Blood can be divided into different components: plasma, platelets, and red blood cells.

We use it for trauma patients like car accidents, after childbirth, complications from surgeries. Those patients can use red blood cells, plasma, and platelets if they're for bleeding issues. People with blood diseases such as anemia, sickle cell, that type of thing, have to have frequent red blood cell transfusions because there's an issue with manufacturing red blood cells or white blood cells or different components of the blood. Burn patients, we will give them plasma to help regulate their blood pressure. Cancer patients often need platelets and red blood cells to help their body because their body stops manufacturing components of the blood while they're fighting the disease.

So blood can be used in very many different ways therapeutically or if, you know, in case of life threatening emergencies. There's a story of a guy in Twin Falls that had a farming accident and received over 100 units of blood. So sometimes it's just somebody needs all the components, and they need it fast. That sounds like it was really long winded.

Melissa: No. That was great because I feel like sometimes we think of, and I don't know about the general population, but, like, you think about, oh, blood donations are for people who've lost a lot of blood or maybe, like, for a surgery, but my brain wouldn't associate a blood donation going to a burn patient. I don't know why. But just because we don't know we don't see all the sides of it. So I think that's super helpful in saying, no.

You're helping all these people in various situations.

Angela: And we can divide the blood into different you know, sometimes it's that unit stays intact, but we can divide it to separate out just the platelets or just the plasma or just the red blood cells so it can go to more than one person.

Melissa: So you could be helping multiple people. That's so cool.

Angela: In one hour for free, and we give you cookies.

Melissa: I mean, who could say no to cookies and helping people? But what challenges are there? I mean so, like, people would say, yes. That's a great thing, but what challenges do you face in finding people to donate?

Angela: Well, less than 3% of the population donates blood, which is really, really a scary thought when you think 35% of the population will need blood, a blood product at some time in their life. So those numbers are really uneven. The biggest challenge is getting people out to donate the very first time. Most people say they haven't donated blood because nobody asked them. So, you know, that's why we don't just have our donation center open all the time or have a mobile unit that just pulls up and waits for people to come up because we really need the community to go out and reach new people and educate people on how important it is to donate blood, and ask people for the very first time.

That's one of the reasons we go into the high school because statistics show that if somebody donates blood 3 times in a short period of time, they tend to become lifetime donors. So it's something that you just have to kinda be asked to do and then start feeling how important it is to do it.

Russell: I saw somewhere online that people who donate often are much more helpful than people who only donate once. So that's cool to hear that going to high school really helps out with getting people to donate more throughout their life. Are there other ways that you found to get people to become repeat donors?

Melissa: You can say if there isn't, that's okay.

Angela: Yeah. I'm kinda stumped at that that one, really. One other challenge that I find is kind of relatively new in the last 10, 15 years is plasma centers. A lot of people will donate plasma, and they have this conception that donating plasma and donating blood, it's the same thing, but I get paid when I donate plasma. There is some fundamental differences in that if you get paid for donating, that product cannot go direct to a recipient.

So when you go to a plasma center and get paid to donate plasma, it will get pooled and turned into medications, cosmetics, scientific experiments. It's really a retail product that they are creating. It is not going directly to a recipient to save their life. So I think that that is having quite a bit of an impact on young people because they've grown up with the plasma centers and

Russell: Mhmm.

Angela: You know? Yeah.

Russell: And if they view them the same way, then they'd think, yeah. I wanna get some money for this, but that's not actually going to people who truly... I'm not going to say who truly need it, because people do need the plasma, but also, donating your blood, your whole blood to blood banks is very helpful for the population, people in emergencies in times of crisis. Right?

Angela: Right. It's going direct to the recipient instead of being pooled and used as a as a commercial medication or that type of thing.

Melissa: Like, if you're wanting to help to donate that product, donate the blood because then it can be used for plasma, but it can also be used for lots of things that are gonna help lots of different people.

Angela: It can go directly to a patient when it is needed critically. Mhmm.

Melissa: It's really important. So with that idea, I guess, of facing challenges and maybe emergencies, if there's shortages or emergencies, you kind of addressed it a little bit already when you talked about, like, if there's a shortage somewhere and there's an excess or extra, then you guys share. But are there other ways that you guys address blood shortages or times of emergency? How do you guys address those times?

Angela: Well, we consider it a shortage when there becomes less than a 3 day supply of blood on our shelves. And if you think about it, 3 day supply is not that big, not that great of a supply. And there are certain times of years that we can almost guarantee we're gonna have a shortage. Right now, we are experiencing extremely low donor turnout, But it's understandable. It's a busy time of year.

People are on vacation. They're traveling. They're getting ready for the holidays. It's easy to kinda put off that decision, but what happens, the blood we're collecting now is what's going to meet our needs in January. And so, invariably, 1st of the year, you're gonna hear that we're gonna have a blood shortage, particularly of type O because there's less than a 3 day supply.

So that's when we then we put out an emergency appeal. And people do react. People are good, and the donors turn out, but it takes a while to rebuild the blood supply. And in the time that I've worked at the Red Cross, I have seen it where the blood supply got low enough that cancer patients were having to postpone treatments. They would have to ration blood products.

If somebody had a trauma and were bleeding, really could use 2 units, they might get one. So I have seen some of the worst where certain hospitals couldn't accept emergencies because there wasn't enough type o for every hospital to have some, so only the major trauma centers would have have type o.

Russell: I'm curious. How how has the pandemic affected you guys? I'm sure that during the pandemic, you guys weren't able to accept nearly as much blood or have as many blood drives as you normally could. Are you guys still having the effects of that, or is it kinda... how is it for you guys?

Angela: It has been a roller coaster, really. At first, with the pandemic, you know, people weren't working. They weren't traveling. They were postponing surgeries, and so the demand actually went down. And we reduced.

We actually went in and canceled some blood drives and reduced the amount of blood we were collecting because there just wasn't a need, and we can't save it. So you don't wanna waste it. You just wait. And on top of that, donors wanted to do something positive. People needed to get out of the house and do something, you know, positive.

And so donors were really coming in and going, I can't find an appointment. I'm having to go 2, 3 weeks out. So it was a wonderful time. And then as it progressed and got longer and people returned back to work, people were ill, then we started seeing shortages because people were returning back to work, people were traveling with a vengeance, so I think we had more accidents. People had postponed treatments, checkups, and stuff.

So that we were seeing more severe illnesses when cancers or other illnesses were being diagnosed because they had postponed going to the doctor. So we actually went the opposite direction, and that's when we had that severe shortage that I talked about earlier because then we needed to have more than normal. But people were so busy returning back, trying to get back to normal, that donor turnout was lower and illnesses were still affecting collections because people can't donate when they're ill. Yeah. And if our staff gets exposed to something, then they can't work for a while.

So it had an extreme effect the other way. The pendulum kinda swung back and forth a couple times before things... I think things are just barely starting to normalize.

Melissa: That's good to hear. I was thinking as you were talking, it made me think about there there's really a balance there and, like, because it's only good for did you say 42 days? Yes. Because the donations are only good for that long, but then you also wanna have a frequent supply. How does the Red Cross balance that? We wanna have you know, not waste any of this, but we also wanna have a steady supply.

How does that affect the blood donation?

Angela: Smarter people than me are figuring this out. I always thought, it's kinda like, you know, predicting futures.

Melissa: Mhmm.

Angela: Because we really are looking in our crystal ball and saying, you know, typical January is like this, and this area has grown a little bit. The demand's gonna be you know, if the population's grown 5%, the demand should go up 5%.

So there's a lot of great minds that come down and they work their numbers and they come back and tell us, account managers, this is what what we need. This is how many blood drives and how much blood we need to collect this month to meet patients' needs for next month. In Southeast Idaho, I cover from Jackson Driggs up to Island Park and then over to Firth, this general area. And we have usually have 8 to 10 blood drives a week, Monday through Friday, plus our donation center is is open 2 days a week, Mondays and Fridays.

Russell: A lot of blood drives are going on. I had no idea that many blood drives are happening each week. If someone wants to get involved, how can they do that?

Angela: There's a lot of different ways to find us, but probably the easiest way is go to redcrossblood.org online. You can type in your ZIP code and it'll tell you where all the blood drives are within 25 miles of your ZIP code over the next week or 2. And I told you this area I cover; within your listening area, we have another account manager in Pocatello that is hosting the same amount of blood drives from Burley back to Blackfoot. So she covers the other half. So there should be a blood drive near you, within easily a week or 2.

Another thing they can do, if they're not finding one that's convenient, give us a call. Host a blood drive. So I can have a blood drive in your area.

Russell: Yeah. What goes into that?

Angela: Your biggest job in my mind is recruiting. We need to find a space where they can host it that has at least 850 square feet, electrical outlets, running water, heat, air conditioning. That sounds pretty basic, but trust me. We've been in some places that were very, very cold or some places that got a little warm. That's very important.

Running water on the... you know, within the area, and then I'll work with you. I provide the publicity materials. I provide social media templates and then you get the word out, invite people to sign up. You recruit and sign up your donors before the day of the drive. When we come into the drive, we set everything up.

The only thing you need to provide is tables and chairs. We even bring the snacks, and it takes an average blood drive about 5, 6 hours. So you want some volunteers on-site to help us check-in donors.

Russell: Along with volunteering, I'm curious— what can someone do if they can't donate blood? I talk to people about donating blood, and I hear a lot of people say, I wish I could do something, but I can't donate blood. Like, I hear a lot of people say that they would pass out if they donated blood, and it just wouldn't be good for them health wise. How can those people help out?

Angela: I always tell people that it's okay to faint when you're donating. We've got you on a bed. We won't let you hit the ground. And, usually, it's nothing serious. It doesn't hurt a thing, but I do understand some people just absolutely if they can't over overcome their fear or if they have a health reason or issue that they can't, the next best thing they could do is host a blood drive or find someone to donate on your behalf.

Go out and be an advocate for the Red Cross and for blood donation. You can also volunteer at blood drives. If you go to the redcrossblood.org, there's a place to sign up to volunteer. We need donor ambassadors at our donation center to help with donor registration, checking people in, thanking them for being there. And also if you want to go beyond blood donations, you've heard of the other things that the Red Cross does.

The Red Cross works, you know, provides food and shelter in times of national disasters. We go into homes on an annual basis and put in smoke detectors at no cost to the recipient. We also provide services to military families in times of emergencies. There are lots of opportunities to volunteer with the Red Cross. It can be virtual by helping organize, making calls, working online.

It can be boots on the ground going into hurricane areas and handing out meals to storm victims. So if you wanna get involved with Red Cross, we've got something that you would enjoy doing.

Melissa: What maybe has been some of the more meaningful experiences or just a meaningful experience that you've had as you've worked in this field of blood donation and with the Red Cross?

Angela: Well, for me, it is very, very meaningful to hear the stories of why people are there donating. Sometimes I've heard stories about women who receive blood after a difficult childbirth; they're giving back. People whose child, their parent, their best friend had cancer, received blood, as treatments. They don't always survive. Sometimes, it's the blood they received gave them good quality life, gave them a chance for one more birthday party, one more dinner with friends.

You know? It's not always absolute, you know, this saved a life sometimes. It's just improved the quality of life. I love to hear stories about recoveries. You know?

I'm out here donating because my son had leukemia. He received a lot of blood, but he's okay now. He's raising a family of his own. Those stories are always wonderful to hear.

Russell: Do you have a single experience that has impressed you the most?

Angela: I've heard a lot of stories.

Russel: Mhmm.

Angela: So it is really hard to single one out. I do have a gal I work with twice a year, holds 2 blood drives a year.

Her granddaughter has a blood disease and has had to have transfusions every 30 days for her entire life, and she's 7 years old. And her grandmother goes in and hosts blood drives twice a year to help say thank you, you know, for saving my granddaughter's life. She should live to, you know, have a pretty healthy long life, but she will probably have this disease her entire life. And so she will have to have thousands and thousands of blood transfusions over the years.

Also, a personal story. My mother had pancreatic cancer. She, of course, was terminal. That's a pretty aggressive cancer. But towards the end of her treatment or her life, she was having blood clots, and she had to have blood transfusions. And it made... you wouldn't believe the difference it'd make.

You know? She would be in pain and not feeling well and not being able to eat. She'd go have a blood transfusion, and she'd be able to go out and do some things. It did... I said earlier, you know, might give us one last birthday party. That's exactly what it did, and that's why I said that is— it gave us one more birthday party with my mother.

She passed away real shortly after her last birthday, but we got to have one more celebration.

Russell: What would you say to someone who's on the fence about donating?

Angela: I'd say it's never as bad as you think it's gonna be, so try it at least once or probably even twice. I would say put yourself in someone else's shoes. So, you would be afraid just to go donate blood. But if it was your brother, your child, your mother, you would you would probably say, "I'm gonna do it anyway. I'll get over the fear."

You don't know who... this is somebody's child. This is somebody's mother. This is somebody's brother that is getting this blood.

Melissa: Mhmm.

Angela: And that blood mostly stays in our community. We provide 100% of the blood supply in Southeast Idaho. So all our local areas. So when you're donating blood, it's staying in our region, Idaho, Montana, and helping our community. It could be... it literally could be coming back to somebody you know and love.

Russell: What does the future of donating blood look like with technology improving? I'm sure it looks completely different now than it used to even 60 years ago. Do you see a progression towards better techniques for donating blood?

Angela: I think we have better testing to detect more minor antigens. We can give better match for blood for patients that need blood frequently, which reduces their risk of rejection. So there's better treatment for donors. Some of the innovations that I have seen just since I've worked here really don't have to do with blood testing, but more donor experience. People are able to schedule online rather than having to call the 800 number.

We have a donor app that is really, really cool. It's one of my favorite things. You can schedule with it. You can do your rapid pass, which is the required predonation required reading and the health history questionnaires, so that reduces the time it takes to donate. It saves you about 15 minutes off your donation times. It also gives you an ability to track your blood. So after you donate, you can see where your blood ends up. That's so cool. And I think that's really cool.

Melissa: That is really cool. You get to see... like, it makes that connection deeper. You could just see where it goes to help people. That's really cool. Yes.

Angela: Yeah, I think it's one of my favorite things. The app also has... we've just added a health history because we do a little mini physical on you. We check your pulse. We check your blood pressure, and we check your hemoglobin levels, which is also kind of an indication where your iron levels are. That information is now stored on your app for you.

So when you go for your annual physical, you can share that information with your physician. We also are providing testing for people. So if we detect certain issues in a donor, we will notify them and let them know here's some important information, you should see your physician. You know? Say, maybe your iron levels are very low even though your hemoglobin looked okay.

We notify those donors, so we also provide some service back to the donors.

Russell: That's cool. Do you have any other questions, Melissa?

Melissa: I don't think so. I just sort of enjoyed learning. Like, it's a lot of good insights and perspectives that you shared with us today. So thank you for coming and talking with us.

Angela: Yeah. The thing I would say in closing is we really need donors, today and tomorrow. We need sponsors. If you're a student looking for senior project, this makes a really cool senior project— Eagle Scouts, any type of... if you're looking, you know, your youth group or your civic group is looking for a community outreach, your church, please go to redcrossblood.org or come see us at the donation center on Mondays Fridays on 17th Street. We we'd love to help you out.

We'd love to have you host a blood drive.

Russell: Thank you for coming in today.

Angela: Yeah. Well, thank you for having us.

Melissa: We wanna thank Angela for coming in and talking to us about blood donation. Every 2 seconds, someone in the US needs blood.

Russell: To help our community, try donating blood, volunteer for a blood drive, or organize your own blood drive.

Melissa: To learn more about blood donation and other topics that affect our community, visit the awareness tab on eiradio.com.

Russell: Thanks for listening to the Riverbend Awareness Project. Next month, join us as we learn about heart health.