Celebrate January: It’s National Blood Donor Month

Greg Thorsell of Diamond Springs, California, clearly remembers his first time donating blood. It was at a Star Trek convention in 1976 and he was a teenager, determined to get an autograph from George Takei (Hikaru Sulu). A pint of blood earned Takei’s signature!

For Thorsell, who is now 56 years old, donating blood has become a routine and he has donated frequently for more than 20 years. Every Tuesday he visits BloodSource’s Folsom center and rotates between giving plasma or platelets. He does not like needles but says the BloodSource staff greets him by his first name and treats him like family, making the experience very comfortable.

“My overall philosophy is that there is somebody who needs it more than I do,” says Thorsell, who has more than 1,100 credited donations. “If they need the blood they need it now. I will just do what I can to help out.”

With 15 donor centers, a volunteer donor base of approximately 100,000 people, and an innovative team of physicians, BloodSource is able to serve a population of more than 5 million and provide blood and medical expertise to more than 40 hospitals (26 counties) in northern and central California. The not-for-profit organization, established in 1948, supports other local and national centers when needed.

Who can donate? According to Alexander Sigua, public relations manager for BloodSource, less than 40 percent of the general population is eligible to give blood, and out of that number, less than 10 percent actually donate. BloodSource can store whole blood (red cells) for 42 days, platelets for five days, and plasma can be frozen for up to one year. A state-of-the-art apheresis machine leverages technology to separate the components, allowing the centers to recruit for what is needed.

“We have a goal to collect approximately 700 units of blood each day to meet the needs of the patients in each hospital,” says Donny Dumani, M.D., associate medical director for BloodSource. “One unit can be the equivalent of up to approximately one pint in volume. In exceptional cases, one single individual with serious injuries can require up to 50 units or even more, and for a small community hospital, that could be its entire blood supply.”

In 2014, BloodSource started collecting source plasma (plasma that is collected specifically to develop lifesaving plasma-based medicines and therapies) and operates the only voluntary source plasma donor centers in the U.S. This process is enabling medicine such as intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) to be developed. IVIG is used to treat immune deficient patients and according to Dumani, the medication has produced amazing results, is in high demand and is enabling these patients to live a normal life.

“BloodSource has always aimed to be at the forefront of the industry,” says Dumani, who is optimistic about another new lifesaving treatment, Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT).

FMT is being used to treat patients suffering from Clostridium difficile infection. According to Dumani, 15,000 Americans die every year from this type of infection and antibiotics are not working. AdvancingBio, a subsidiary of BloodSource, is one of two centers in the U.S. collecting stool to assist in the manufacturing of FMT, which has been found by the American College of Gastroenterology to cure more than 90 percent of patients.

As BloodSource’s services continue to grow with advanced technology, the organization’s vision remains the same: “To be the model blood services provider as we strive to improve patient health with precious resources of blood.” With nearly 2,000 mobile blood drives each year, the organization successfully carries out this vision.

For Greg Thorsell, donating is a simple concept.

“How would you feel if you needed blood and there wasn’t somebody out there to donate?”