While Alyssa knows donating is important, it’s personal for her and many others at AssuredPartners. They donate in memory of their friend and former coworker Emily Rhoads, who died in a car accident in 2015 when she was 27.
After the accident, “Emily received lots of units (of blood),” said Alyssa. That’s when the company decided to host the blood drive in her memory and to help others in the community who need blood. “We do it to save lives,” said Alyssa.
And for those who have never tried donating? “I tell them to just try it. You’re saving lives, and I will even hold their hands,” said Alyssa.
Kentucky Blood Center is always looking for new companies/organizations/schools and communities to sponsor blood drives. If you are interested in supporting Kentucky patients by hosting a blood drive, please click here https://kybloodcenter.org/why-donate/host-blood-drive/.
Alyssa Hawkins, Lexington
Blood drive chairperson and blood donor
Don Smith and Kaitlin Keane
Don started donating in the early 1960s and continued doing so occasionally. When he learned he had been one of 14 people whose donations were supporting a specific cancer patient, that spurred him to start donating regularly. He now donates platelets every two weeks.
When Kaitlin learned of her grandfather's dedication, she decided to commemorate the occasion with a family party, complete with blood donation-themed cookies. But first, she was inspired to turn Don's example into a family tradition. "If he could do it 100 times, I could do it one time," Kaitlin said.
Don Smith, Woodford Co., and Kaitlin Keane, Louisville
Now a dedicated blood donor, Casey frequently gives at blood drives at the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet, where she is an executive secretary. “We’re here to serve the people of the Commonwealth,” said Casey, who points out that offering convenient places to save lives is definitely a community service.
And for those who are afraid to donate, she encourages them with “You’re saving another life. All you can do is try. That day or the next day, you don’t know when you might need it.”
Casey Dean, Frankfort
Kentucky Personnel Cabinet Executive Secretary III, blood donor
“I gave because I could. Life is precious, and I see a lot of people who can’t give. I can,” said Michael, who is usually decked out in his Cardinal gear when he comes to Kentucky Blood Center’s Beaumont location to donate.
He says people who don’t give but can are “not doing right with themselves. They need to go that extra mile. It pays off in the end.”
Michael Coleman, Lexington
“It’s just this knowledge that you’re helping somebody,” Hank says. “You don’t know who that is, where it is, but it is making a difference, and that’s a very positive feeling and something that the Lord helps me to do. I’m just happy to do it and will continue to do it as long as I’m on this earth for as long as I can, every 56 days.”
Outside of a five-year period when he was unable to give blood due to prostate cancer, Hank has been a regular blood donor since 1981.
Hank’s wife has needed transfusions from time to time due to various surgeries over the years, but Hank’s inspiration for beginning to donate decades ago was simply to help other people.
Now retired in Lexington, Kentucky, Hank regularly donates at KBC’s Andover location. His frequency and consistency show how easy it is to save lives, but Hank doesn’t understand some of the misconceptions with donating blood.
“Some of it is maybe – and it’s kind of ridiculous – is having a needle in you,” Hanks says. “Maybe if they haven’t donated before, they think it’s more time consuming and more complex and more difficult than it really is, but it’s not a complex procedure. It goes by very quickly and comfortably.”
Jim Hughes, Lexington
Platelet donor, 21+ gallons
She started donating as a whole blood donor, but when she heard her B-negative blood type was especially good for platelets, she made the switch to doing platelet pheresis donations.
A survivor of traumatic brain injury 15 years ago, Lindsey’s dedication to platelet donation is remarkable. Unable to drive, she must coordinate rides to and from the donor center so plans are made well in advance.
Lindsey, 32, gives at Beaumont Donor Center and says the “phlebotomists are rockin’ awesome.” She likes the rapport there and the friendships she’s established with the phlebotomists and screeners. “It’s good to see the familiar faces.”
When she was young, Lindsey knew she wanted to be in the healthcare field and now works at the University of Kentucky and Good Samaritan Hospital as a PBX operator. She probably didn’t know, though, that she’d play such an important role in the healthcare of many Kentucky patients.
Lindsey Newland, Lexington
Officially, she’s the school’s bookkeeper but she also acts as the blood drive chairperson. And at a school that hosts at least five successful blood drives a year, that’s a big undertaking.
“Awareness is a big thing. We meet with incoming freshman and make them aware of blood donation and how KBC blood stays local,” said Baker, who also tries to make blood drives fun with candy bars and pizza parties.
They also make the student donors feel special. “We reward the students. Seniors are required to do 10 community service hours to graduate. If they donate blood they get two hours,” she said. Seniors who have given a gallon or more during their high school career are presented a red cord at honors night to wear at graduation. “It signifies their contribution,” said Baker.
But what about those students who are afraid to give donation a try? “I tell them, ‘for a little pinch you have the ability to save three lives or five baby lives.’”
Cindy Baker, Harrodsburg
Mercer County High School Bookkeeper, blood drive chair and blood donor
“When I signed the form for the transfusion, I thought ‘what a hypocrite. I’ve never donated blood,’” said Belinda. A while later, she saw a local news story about how the bad winter weather was hurting the community’s blood supply. “They are probably short because I took it all,” Belinda thought. That’s when she decided she needed to have a blood drive to help give back.
The annual Billy Noblitt Memorial Blood Drive in Frankfort – named for her father but organized to help other Kentucky patients – began in May 2014 and has grown every year with live music, food, prizes and support from state and local government officials.
Belinda doesn’t just organize the blood drive, she rolls up her sleeve, too. “People don’t realize that 45 minutes of their time can save a life or help a family in need. I’m a big weenie, and if I can do it anyone can do it,” she said.
Belinda Bay, Frankfort
Blood drive coordinator and blood donor
Hundreds of donations later, the reason why Joe Swelnis started down a lifetime of servant leadership was rather simple.
He was 21 years old, just starting out in his career and didn’t know many people at his new place of employment. Within the first few months on the job, a blood drive happened at his work, and a lot of the people Joe was trying to get to know were donating.
“It didn’t take much to persuade me,” Joe said. “Everyone else was doing it, so I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’ I had never given blood before, but I enjoyed it and really have never stopped.”
At Kentucky Blood Center alone, Joe has made nearly 275 donations, the equivalent of 34 gallons of blood, many of them at the Madison County Richmond Community Drive. The lives he has helped save over the years is nearly a thousand.
But it was a life he couldn’t ultimately save that has undoubtedly strengthened his passion for giving blood.
His first wife, Lucinda, developed lung cancer in the late 1980s. Between the removal of part of her lung, radiation and chemotherapy, her journey with cancer was brutal and required multiple blood transfusions.
Unfortunately, Joe lost Lucinda to cancer after it spread to her spine about a year after her diagnosis. Cindy, as everyone called her, received the transfusions she needed, but her death has been a constant reminder to Joe to continue donating even after all these years, especially now when 25% of the blood supply is used by patients battling cancer.
“There is no other way to secure a supply of blood,” Joe said. “Modern medical science has not found a way to synthesize human blood. We just can’t do it yet, and maybe never.”
As many lives Joe has saved with donations, he has saved countless others with his fervor for encouraging others. He has become a bit of a pitchman for blood banks with his friends and connections.
“I’m just one person,” Joe said. “I can only do just one pint every two months (every 56 days). It’s like a drop of water in a pond. When you add it up, the need is a lot greater. For people who need blood, if I or other people don’t give, then the blood’s not there.”
Joe is aware of the shortage of blood that has plagued the nation for much of the COVID-19 pandemic. It worries him because he knows the majority of donations come from an older demographic.
“I won’t be able to give blood forever obviously, and no one my age can,” said Joe, 75 years old. “I feel fairly young for my age, but I know people who have had to stop donating because they just can’t do it anymore.”
His question to the younger generation: Will you step up?
“They feel that someone else will take care of it and that they don’t have to worry about it because it will always be there,” Joe said. “I think that’s probably the biggest misconception. If I have the opportunity to talk to someone, I say, ’If you need a pint of blood when you’re in a car accident and you have to have surgery, where do you think it’s going to come from?’ ”
The first grade teacher started donating platelets as soon as she heard 7-year-old Tanner needed them to help make him strong enough for his radiation and chemotherapy after brain cancer surgery.
Her platelets were usually designated for Tanner. “Some days they’d (Tanner’s family) take a picture of the yellow tag on the bag because they’d know it was from me. They’d send a message, ‘He’s getting yours today,’” said McClure.
Once Tanner got better and didn’t need her platelet help any longer, Kim continued giving. She saw the need for platelets and knew there were other cancer patients in Kentucky depending on her.
“It’s not about you. It’s about helping other people. If people were nicer to people, the world would be a nicer place,” said McClure.
“I’m O-positive. I love donating platelets. It’s the least I can do for someone else.”
“If you can’t be a first responder, you can do something simple like sitting in a chair for 20 minutes and save a life,” said Byron, who is a special education teacher at Georgetown Middle School.
Byron said he donates because he would want a decent supply of blood available if something were to happen to him or his family. And for those who are afraid of needles? “It’s a little pinch. No worse than losing a tooth. It’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Byron Wilson, Lexington