Starting next week, Loudoun residents will have an easy way to help save a life.
Inova Blood Donor Services is opening the first permanent donor center in Loudoun County on April 4. The center contains state-of-the-art collecting technology as well as a lab, distribution center and administrative offices.
Why Loudoun? The answer: it's the fastest growing county in the nation.
"More people means to us more donors," said Linda Wilson, donor recruitment manager with Inova.
When Loudoun citizens come to the building on Nokes Boulevard after a day of shopping at the Dulles Town Center, they can kick back and relax — literally. The new donor center features plush lounge chairs in a spacious setting more like a hotel lobby than a medical center.
It's part of an effort to make donating blood a more welcoming experience for people. According to Wilson, while 60 percent of people in the metropolitan area are eligible to donate, less than 5 percent do.
"We've had some very difficult days this past year," said Patricia Gordon, Inova's assistant director of operations.
Inova Blood Donor Services distributes blood to 15 hospitals in the metropolitan area and has five permanent donor centers. It supplies more than 90 percent of the blood to transfused patients in Northern Virginia.
THE DONOR CENTER has the technology to do not only traditional whole-blood collections but specific blood part collections: plasma, red blood cell, platelets. The latter requires a machine called a Trima that takes blood from the donor, extracts the necessary part and cycles the blood back into the donor. The process is called automatic blood collection.
Recycling blood used to be a more immobilizing experience, requiring a needle in each arm.
"Some people didn't like it, or didn't have good vein access," Gordon said.
With automatic blood collection, only one needle is needed.
Donors can still give the traditional whole-blood donation, which takes five to 15 minutes, versus automatic's 45 minutes to two hours. And while donors are unpaid, they do get cookies and juice after donating.
Meanwhile, each donor's pint of blood will go through a careful vetting process to ensure it's safe for transfusion. The lab checks for blood type, antibodies and viruses — HIV, hepatitis, syphilis and more.
If a person's blood tests positive, the center can track him down and inform him, maybe long before the person thinks of going to a doctor.
"We have actually saved a few of our donor's lives," Gordon said.
The testing process itself, however, is anonymous; blood is identified by a number only.
GERALD BROWN, a Leisure World resident, first donated blood more than 20 years ago when a friend had open heart surgery. For the last several years, he’s helped bring donors to Loudoun Hospital Center’s monthly blood drives.
While the new donor center might have a more welcoming ambiance than the blood drives’ conference room setting, a first-time donor’s nerves could still be on edge.
Brown is a regular donor as well as volunteer.
"Once you get used to it and you see you’re actually not going to die from this, it’s just a routine thing," Brown said. "They just come out and do it."
Are You Eligible?
Donors must be in good general health, at least 17 years old, at least 110 pounds and have no high-risk factors for HIV or hepatitis.
Inova Blood Donor Services at 45745 Nokes Blvd., Suite 160, in Dulles will open April 4. It will be open Mondays, 12-8 p.m., Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Fridays, 6 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sundays, 12-4 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome. Call 571-434-3600 for more information.