UAB Hospital is one of the nation’s largest users of blood products, ranking in the top five of hospitals supplied by the Red Cross. But, more than 85 percent of the blood used in Jefferson County is collected elsewhere in the state – or in other states.

Doctors Robert Schelonka, left, and Wally Carlo, right, pose for a photo with 4-year-old patient Leslie Harris last Christmas. Doctors relied on reserve blood supply to help Harris after her premature birth.

Now UAB is stepping up its efforts to increase blood collection from its home community with the LifeSavers Freedom Festival — a weeklong blood drive in July to secure 1,000 units of blood.

The LifeSavers Freedom Festival, part of UAB Hospital’s Everyday Heroes campaign, begins Sunday, July 1 and runs through Friday, July 6 in UAB Hospital’s North Pavilion.

“Giving the gift of blood is all it takes to become a hero,” says Michael Waldrum, M.D., CEO of UAB Hospital. “The sad truth is that Alabama is forced to import much of the blood needed by patients in our hospitals. We face chronic blood  shortages, particularly in summer and during holiday periods.

“Our ambitious goal of 1,000 units of blood in one week will boost our inventory and ensure that we have an adequate blood supply to meet the needs of our patients,” says Waldrum.

UAB Hospital uses an average 770 units of blood each week. Blood products are used during surgery, transplantation, trauma care, difficult pregnancies and cancer treatment. It is not unheard of for a single patient to require as many as 100 units.

Donation is personal

     Lynn Duffy, a laboratory manager in the Department of Pathology, knew of the blood shortage firsthand when her brother was scheduled for surgery in January.
     Morry Barton had an aneurysm on his aorta; when doctors operated they noticed it had attached to the back of his lungs, and he required many more units of blood than is typical for this type of surgery.
     Barton’s condition was so severe that he did not live through the operation. However, that hasn’t stopped Duffy and her family from trying to make a difference for someone else.
     Duffy, her sister-in-law Teresa Justice, nephew Morris Barton and sister Sharon Hardy are organizing a blood drive with the American Red Cross near the time of the LifeSavers Freedom Festival in her brother’s hometown, Selma.        Barton’s employer, Moore Stewart Ford in Selma, is hosting the drive.
     “We just feel that this is the right thing to do,” says Duffy, who has worked at UAB for more than 30 years. “What we want and hope is that other people will consider this, too, and if planning a blood drive is not possible, making an effort to donate a unit of blood is just as important. Every unit of blood that can be given helps.”

Marisa Marques, M.D., medical director of the hospital Transfusion Service, says the 1,000-unit goal is ambitious, but she’s confident UAB employees will help meet the target.

“It’s a challenge, but we want to challenge ourselves. We want to challenge our employees, students, visitors and the community in general to show how much they care,” Marques says.

“We scheduled this event the week of July 4 for a reason,” says Marques. “We want people to show their patriotism. When you give blood, you are showing you care for your fellow citizens. As we celebrate our freedom, we remember the responsibilities we have to each other.”

UAB Hospital wants to become self-sufficient and rely less on external blood sources to ensure the patients receive the best care possible.

“If we have that self-sufficiency we would not go into shortages, and we will never need an emergency appeal for blood as we did in January,” Marques says.

“The January shortage was complicated by all the snow in the West and Midwest. They couldn’t ship in any blood due to the weather. Furthermore, our local donations were down, as usually happens during the winter.”

Encourage family, friends
Marques hopes UAB employees will encourage their family and friends to donate blood during the drive.
She says all non-UAB employees who come to campus to donate blood during the week of July 1 through July 6 will be given free parking. Everyone who donates will receive an “Everyday Heroes” T-shirt, a $5 voucher good for the North Pavilion food court or Starbucks and a variety of free entertainment options.
Those donating also will be entered in drawings to receive larger prizes, including a mountain bike and gift certificates to local restaurants and other businesses.

If you wish to donate in honor of a family member or patient, you can make the request at the time of your donation and recognition will be sent to the family.

“This is a crucial opportunity because normally this time of year we’re at a record low in donation and our inventory goes down; however, our needs are the same,” Marques says.

“Hopefully we have many heroes on campus who will aid our efforts and their fellow citizens.”