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Giving the gift of life

Katie Bartelson, Senior Donor Recruitment Representative presented Ron Holzworth with his United Blood Services 10 Gallon Award. (Nicole Vik/Enterprise)

Ron Holzworth was recognized last week by the United Blood Service for having donated 10 gallons of blood.

Holzworth can't recall how long it's taken him to achieve his goal, but in looking back at his collection of donor cards, the oldest one he could find was from 1997 and, at that time, he had already donated 26 units of blood.

"I taught elementary school in Menahga for 33 years and it was the National Honor Society that started to push a blood drive and I signed up and that's what started me off," Holzworth said about why he chose to start donating. "For me, I can't think of a better way to do something for someone, life-giving blood."

"Initially, 10 gallons wasn't my goal, but once I started to get up there around 20 donations I thought, how far are you going to go?" he said. "And then I thought if I can do 10 gallons that's 80 times. I could feel good."

Holzworth will be turning 70 in February and he says that he is planning to live until 90. If he can continue to donate until he is 80, that'll be something. "I might need every drop after 80," he joked.

"I wonder where that 10 gallons has gone? I've touched so many people with that blood and that's what motivates me," he said. "Whether you've got an illness or you've been involved in an accident you need blood."

"One of the statistics that sticks out to me when I meet with individuals or groups is that up to 90 percent of us at some point in our life will either know of someone close to us that will need blood or we will personally," Katie Bartelson, Senior Donor Recruitment Representative for United Blood Services said in response about the importance of seeking donors like Holzworth.

According to Bartelson, a lot of people do not even think about the need; they think the blood is always going to be there and it's not quite as easy as that.

"We have a constant shortage at the local blood bank, especially during weather situations, during the winter season, during the holiday season. People are busier now than they ever have been before so to find an hour of down time is hard," she said, attributing the reasons for the shortage to busier schedules this time of year and an increase in need for blood transfusions.

"We expect a lot from our donors and it means the world to the patient on the receiving end and their family. You have something to give as a blood donor that someone else cannot live without and that's so powerful. Every unit is that life line for that patient."

"I've never needed a blood transfusion, but I would feel confident now that I know about giving blood. This is my way to contribute to our society and the people involved," Holzworth said. "You never know when there might be a crisis, like a tornado and you have a lot of injuries."

Life is very unpredictable and tragedy could strike at any moment that may affect a mass population of people, and according to Bartelson, it's the blood on the shelf that they have available right now that is going to save those patients because there is a process in place.

"If we had a blood drive today, it's going to be several days before that's even available," she said. "One thing I really want to hit home with people is there's nothing we can do if they need blood, but to depend on those that have donated last week or the week before. There's a very small shelf life so there is a constant need. We've always got to have that replenishment coming in the door just to meet the local needs."

The United Blood Services Blood Center in Fargo serves 109 hospitals in this area. Their crew travels every day of the week and services at the center are available seven days a week to ensure convenient services to the community they serve.

"To serve patients in those 109 hospitals, everyday we currently have to see 550 blood donors of the week. It's a huge challenge and there's such a wide array of people who need blood," Bartelson said. "It's the miracle medicine. You can't just go somewhere and get it. It has to come from someone who took the time to roll up their sleeve and donate that gift of life."

Donors give one pint at each donation, which is equal to one unit.

There are several different blood types, but the most rare is AB negative. The most needed is O negative and that is because it is universal. According to Bartelson, only six percent of the population has the blood type O negative.

"We tell them they have gold in their veins," she joked. "As a patient, if you are O negative you can only receive O negative, so it's a double-edged sword. We have got a constant shortage."

Donors are eligible to donate every 56 days. Bartelson said that donors can often times get frustrated because they are called so often, but if the hospitals didn't need blood they wouldn't be making those phone calls.

"Our first priority is always to provide what's needed here locally in these hospitals, but many times we are called upon from other areas within the United States," Bartelson said. "At these blood drives, we collect one pint of what's called whole blood. So within that whole blood there's red cells, plasma and platelets. If you've donated, we can bring it back to the lab and separate it so we tell our donors that with one donation you could affect three different patients."

According to Bartelson, red cells would typically go to a surgery patient, plasma would go to surgery or a burn victim and platelets are given to a cancer patient.

"During the holiday season, there's no better gift to give than the gift of life and given that you've just donated recently that's going to be somebody's fit this holiday season," Bartelson said to Holzworth while presenting him with his United Blood Services 10 Gallons Award.

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