Melanie Samson spent her Monday morning lying down in a brightly-lit white room on the ground floor of an office building off Gallows Road with a tube sticking out of her arm.
The night before, she received a phone call from the Inova Blood Donor Services reminding her it was time to donate blood.
"I'm a regular donor," Samson, an Annandale resident, said. "As regularly as they call me."
While there are others like Samson who donate blood regularly, less than five percent of those eligible actually donate blood. And because blood only has a shelf life of 42 days, all the blood collected after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was rendered useless long ago. In fact, on Friday morning, the Inova Blood Donation Center had no blood in its refrigeration storage unit.
"We're staffed to handle three donors every 15 minutes," said Kristin Gross, assistant director of marketing and business development of the Inova Blood Donor Services. "But we could handle a lot more."
<mh>Anyone Can Do It
<bt>In addition to the general lack of donors, it is hard to maintain an adequate blood supply because of simple math. Whole blood donors can only give every 56 days, leaving a 14-day gap between the blood expiration date and the next possible donation.
"A lot of people think someone else will give and what arises from that is a shortage of blood, and we've grown accustomed to that," said Gerald Moczynski, service center manager of the Red Cross North Fairfax Service Center in Herndon. "After Sept. 11, people stepped forward."
The problem is, they haven't become regular donors. Moczynski said one of the reasons he believes people stay away is the fear donating blood will hurt.
"It does hurt, but only at the beginning. It's like a little pinch by your elbow," Moczynski said. "But then it's fine."
Anyone at least 17 years old, weighing at least 110 pounds and in general good health can be a donor. However, people with a history of hepatitis, those who have tested positive for HIV or AIDS, or anyone who has an auto-immune disease is permanently excluded from being a blood donor. In addition, anyone who has visited or lived in the United Kingdom for at six months between 1980 and 1996 is indefinitely prohibited from donating.
Before donating, a person should drink plenty of fluids the day before and have eaten at least six hours before the scheduled donation. The person should also have stopped taking any antibiotics 72 hours beforehand and has to be symptom free. The entire process, from check-in to leaving takes about an hour to one-and-a-half hours.
<mh>All Donors Wanted
<bt>"We're short on all types," said Dr. Jeanne Lumadue, medical director of the Inova Blood Donor Services. "Especially, if you are Group O, which is the universal donor, and can give. Group O is given to people who are critical. The people who come in and we don't have time to get their blood type."
Besides donating whole blood, which contains red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of the body, plasma and platelets are needed. Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood and donations of platelets, which are needed in the clotting process, are just as important, especially if a person is the rare type AB.
"We like to get donors who are AB to donate platelets and plasma," Lumadue said.
Platelet donors have to wait 14 days between donations.
Six blood donors make up one adult dose and 200 or more people must donate blood each day in order for Inova to meet the demands within the community. Inova Fairfax Hospital, for example, uses more than 80 units of blood each day and a single trauma patient can require 30 to 40 units in a matter of hours.
"Our typical blood supply is a two- to four-days supply," Moczynski said. "During the holidays, when people are distracted the supply drops to less than a day."
Moczynski said by supply, he is referring to how many days the Red Cross can go without receiving donations before running out of blood.
Both the Red Cross and Inova strongly recommend making an appointment to donate. The Red Cross can be reached by calling 1-800-GIVE-BLOOD. The Red Cross has two donation centers in Fairfax County, one in Herndon and the other in Fort Belvoir. To schedule an appointment to donate with Inova, call 1-866-BLOOD-SAVES. Inova has donation sites in Annandale, Centreville, Alexandria and Mount Vernon.