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Published January 25, 2013, 11:30 PM

Cold, flu season causes drop-off in local blood donations

FARGO – As Brett Dahl looks at it, giving plasma and platelets is all about building up cosmic karma points.

By: Helmut Schmidt, INFORUM

FARGO – As Brett Dahl looks at it, giving plasma and platelets is all about building up cosmic karma points.

The 49-year-old Hawley, Minn., man was at United Blood Services this week, lying on a couch hooked up to a machine, squeezing a chunk of white PVC pipe in his right hand and donating as he’s done for more than 20 years.

“Maybe someday I’ll need a product from here and maybe it will save my life. Maybe it’s a karma thing.” Dahl said.

The folks at United Blood Services in south Fargo say they’d be happy to help anyone else pack away a few karma points, too.

With cold and flu season in full swing, there has been a significant drop-off in donations, Executive Director Connie Morris said.

UBS still has the three-day supply of blood and blood products it aims to have on hand, but the nonprofit agency wants to be ready for emergencies.

“We’re seeing a significant amount of platelet and whole-blood donors canceling because of the flu,” Morris said. “We are still able to meet our local hospital needs at this time, but we want to be prepared in the event of a blizzard or an emergency.”

UBS is not alone in seeing a dip in donations. News outlets around the country – including Michigan, Missouri, Iowa, South Dakota and Tennessee in recent days – all report that blood collection centers have seen flu and cold season take a toll.

Morris said all blood types are needed, especially O-positive and O-negative, the so-called “universal” blood types that can be transfused to anyone in need.

Marti Johnson, 58, a teacher at Moorhead High School, was finishing up with giving her 48th pint of O-positive blood.

“Besides my blood, I really am a popular person,” the Moorhead woman joked.

She said the 45 minutes it takes for her donations are a worthwhile deed.

“It makes me feel kind of reinvigorated,” she said.

A few couches away, the man who got her started on donating blood, her husband, Dale Johnson, was giving whole blood.

That will be broken down into red blood cells, a cryoprecipitate (a blood product which promotes healing), and plasma, which means his donation could help three people, Morris said.

The 63-year-old retired Moorhead School District teacher has given his B-positive blood more than 200 times in 40-plus years.

He started back when he went to college and he needed the cash that used to be paid for blood at the time. And he kept going.

“I just do it to help others,” Dale Johnson said. “We both really like being able to help other people in the community.”

Morris said 5 percent of Americans over age 16 donate blood, but 80 percent of the population will need blood at some time in their lives.

You have to be at least 16 years old, but there’s no upper limit on who can donate, Morris said.

The average person has eight to 10 pints of blood in their system, so a one-pint donation has no effect on the donor, Morris said, but it can mean much to the recipient.

“One pint can be the difference between life and death for one of our patients,” she said.

Morris said it typically takes an hour to give blood. The agency does a medical health history to be sure the donation will work well for the donor and that the blood or plasma given will be healthy for the recipients.

The actual donation of blood takes eight to 10 minutes. Donors are then asked to wait 15 minutes and take refreshments to be sure they feel fully recovered after the donation, Morris said.

Some donors watch television or listen to music, many draped with a blanket or two to keep warm.

Dahl, who has AB-positive blood, was going to be at the facility about two hours to donate his “liquid gold” of platelets and plasma.

He said the minor discomfort of the needle poke is nothing compared to what the donation can do for others.

“It’s basically my time, and it’s worthwhile to me,” Dahl said. “It makes me feel good. Somebody needs what I’m donating.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583