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NoVa Needs Blood

If it wasn’t for Inova Blood Services, 10-year-old Paul Fertitta wouldn’t be able to compete in his swim meet Monday night, play soccer in the fall or hit a few golf balls in the backyard of his Fairfax home over summer vacation.

“If there was no blood available, I might not be here right now,” the fourth grader said.

Two years ago, Paul was diagnosed with leukemia, a form of cancer that affects the blood or bone marrow.

His mother, Pamela Fertitta, recalls the night her son was diagnosed with cancer.

“The doctors told us to go to the hospital immediately,” she said. “We went straight upstairs. They were waiting for us.”

The doctors at Inova Fairfax Hospital were waiting to perform surgery on Paul, but first he needed a blood transfusion.

“We waited, and waited, and waited,” Pamela Fertitta said. “A couple of hours later, I asked a nurse, ‘Why are we waiting?’ She said, ‘There’s no blood.’”

The Fertittas waited 24 hours before Paul received his first blood transfusion. He was allergic to the first batch and had to wait until morning to receive the second transfusion.

“Since then, he’s needed blood several times,” Pamela Fertitta said. “There’s no artificial substitute for blood. You either have it or you don’t.”

Every time Pamela Fertitta brings her son to the oncologist’s office, she sees “Give Blood” signs. She hears nurses and doctors tell patients “I’m sorry, there’s no blood today.”

INOVA BLOOD DONOR Services assistant director of marketing and business management Frances Holly is concerned about the blood shortage in Northern Virginia.

“As of yesterday [Thursday, June 22] we were unable to fill all of our orders for the 15 hospitals we serve in the area,” Holly said.

Inova Blood Donor Services provides blood to Northern Virginia hospitals including Alexandria, Fairfax, Fair Oaks, Loudoun and Mount Vernon hospitals.

When there is a shortage, Holly said she tries to import blood from service centers along the East Coast.

“We looked from one end to the other, no one could import blood into our community,” Holly said.

Inova Blood Donor Services manager of donor recruitment Linda Wilson works especially hard during the summer months.

The blood center needs to collect 200 units of blood a day to supply 15 Northern Virginia hospitals with blood. One person can provide one unit of blood.

“Over the last two months, we’ve only hit 200 three times,” Holly said. “The blood shortage is particularly bad right now because it’s summer and the [Fourth of July] holiday is coming up.”

DURING BLOOD SHORTAGES like this one, Wilson and her team is on the phones contacting previous donors and coming up with ways to bring in new blood.

“We need new donors,” Wilson said. “It takes about an hour. It really is an easy thing to do.”

In order to donate blood, there are a few requirements. Donors must be at least 17 years old, 110 pounds and have photo identification on hand. Loudoun County residents can make an appointment at Inova Blood Donor Services Dulles Town Center location by calling 1-866-256-6372 to make an appointment, or visit www.inova.org/donateblood to request an appointment online.

Right now, Inova donors give blood an average of one-and-a-half times a year.

“If every donor gave blood twice a year, we wouldn’t have a blood shortage,” Wilson said. “We would have blood all the time.”

Inova Blood Donor Services will hold a blood drive from Sunday, July 2 through Friday, July 7, at Inova Blood Services' five locations, Inova Alexandria Hospital in Alexandria, CentreMed in Centreville, Dulles Town Center in Sterling, Inova Mount Vernon Hospital in Alexandria and Woodburn Medical Park in Annandale. Each day of the drive, each center will hold a drawing and give away two $100 gas cards.

“We hope to see about 200 people a day,” Wilson said. “The odds are pretty good.”

TWO YEARS and several blood transfusions later, Paul continues to visit the oncologist. He’s picked up soccer, and loves to swim. He also enjoys playing golf with his dad.

“Luckily, he hasn’t need a transfusion in a year,” Pamela Fertitta said, “but you never know when he might need one. If it wasn’t for blood donations, my son wouldn’t be alive.”

Now, Paul speaks at Inova Blood Donor Services dinners to celebrate frequent donors at their five locations.

“I feel a little nervous, but I like them to feel good about giving blood,” Paul said. “Some people give a lot of blood and it makes them feel good to see a patient they might have helped.”