CRANBERRY TWP — Jack Carney said he doesn't remember why he started donating blood, but he knows why he continues.
The Cranberry Township man donated blood for the 109th time when he visited Elks Lodge Friday to participate in Vitalant Pittsburgh's first blood drive of the year.
“I have it to give, and I can spare it,” he said. “Somebody needs it. Why not?”
Blood banks are working harder than ever to collect during one of the more difficult months of the year.
The Central Blood Bank, the local nonprofit blood provider, became a Blood Systems subsidiary after a merger with Green Tree Institute of Transfusion in March 2017, but it wasn't until rebranding efforts in September that its name was changed to Vitalant Pittsburgh.
With January being National Blood Donor Month, the constant need for blood is more present in the minds of local residents. But between bad weather and flu and cold season, January poses a number of challenges for blood banks.
“There is a constant need for blood — in fact, nearly 450 blood donations are needed each day in Western Pennsylvania alone to meet the needs of people throughout the country,” said Dave Green, Vitalant president and CEO. “National Blood Donor Month is a critical time for people to donate, and we hope that people of all ages will start the New Year by realizing their life-transforming potential of giving blood. These vital donations truly transform lives in communities across the United States.”
Vitalant is one of the nation's oldest and largest nonprofit community blood service providers, and serves nearly 1,000 hospitals and health care partners across 40 states.
Connie Lukaszewicz, donor field supervisor, said the reach of Vitalant is beneficial for its patients nationwide because specialty needs could be met with blood given across the country, rather than having to wait for someone nearby to meet those needs and donate. Conversely, those sister facilities can also supply spots in Butler County with anything that might be a specialty need.
However, Lukaszewicz added that it's also not uncommon for blood donated in Cranberry to stay within Western Pennsylvania.
After donation, Lukaszewicz explained, the blood is sent to be processed. From there, it is distributed to hospitals and health care providers that need it.
She said she didn't know exactly how long it takes for this process to be completed, but Lukaszewicz noted that it is possible to bypass time restraints by “doing doubles.”
An apheresis donation — as it is medically known — is a specialized process that allows the collection of only specific blood components using a machine that separates and collects red blood cells, platelets or plasma or a combination.
The remaining components are then returned to the donor.
To donate this way, donors must meet certain criteria — depending on what is drawn — and the process can take upward of two hours.
In doing so, however, they are giving patients' blood more quickly than if it still needed to be processed in a lab — which can make a world of difference to those patients.
Despite the worries about not meeting community blood needs, those who donated and worked at the drive Friday were still a jovial bunch — laughing and joking while helping to save lives.
Elizabeth Langerud, a phlebotomist at the drive, said one of her favorite parts of the job is being able to travel and meet all types of different donors, including ones like Carney.