Megan Bartel donated blood three times as a high school student in Duluth, Minn., where her school had well advertised and heavily attended blood drives twice a year. Since coming to the University, Bartel, an art and biology sophomore, hasn’t donated blood once.
“I wouldn’t even know where to go,” she said.
In an effort to encourage college students like Bartel to become regular blood donors, a public education campaign designed to increase awareness about the importance of regular blood donation will begin this semester across 16 university campuses nationwide.
The University is participating in the campaign, which is the result of collaboration among the American Association of Blood Banks, America’s Blood Centers and the American Red Cross.
“We, in the blood business, have not been very wise in educating younger people about the importance of donating blood,” said Jack Sheehan, communications manager for North Central Blood Services of the American Red Cross.
Only 5 percent of eligible blood donors actually donate. Of those who do contribute, 3 percent fit into the 17-35 age range, he said.
Sheehan said the bulk of promotion surrounding the public education campaign – called Bloodsaves – will take place in February.
Student volunteers will be on the University campus talking about the need for blood donations and letting people know where to donate, Sheehan said. They will also hand out free red “awareness” bracelets similar to the yellow “Live Strong” bracelets made popular by cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong last year.
On Feb. 21, a blood drive will take place at Coffman Union as part of the campaign. Sheehan said it will take students less than an hour to go through the blood donation process.
Gayle Schreiber, director of marketing and communications for Memorial Blood Centers, said the number one reason young people do not donate blood is that they haven’t been asked.
Another reason is a fear of needles, she said.
Jonee Brandt, a food science junior said, “The thought of needles really freaks me out.”
Brandt said that despite her fear, if she saw information about blood donation sites advertised on campus, she would donate.
Schreiber said the need for blood is growing because of increased technology, greater availability of various medical procedures and large numbers of aging baby boomers.
“This generation has not been exposed to the need for blood like the older generation has,” she said, citing the many Americans who gave blood because of national need during World War II.
Healthy people ages 17 and older who weigh at least 110 pounds can donate blood every 56 days. Each donation saves up to three lives, Schreiber said.
There is an ongoing need for blood donors because blood can only be stored for a certain amount of time, said Robert Bowman, co-director of Fairview-University Medical Center Transfusion Service and professor of lab medicine and pathology.
He said it would be “great” if University students contributed blood because donating is a tangible way to be involved in the community.
Sheehan said students need to realize blood isn’t just for people in car accidents.
“Who amongst us doesn’t know someone with cancer or the AIDS virus?” Sheehan said. “Without blood, they can’t live.”