Credit: Rachel Arabia | Mustang News

Posters promoting blood drives fill Cal Poly’s campus and near student resident halls frequently.

A national shortage of blood donors that began in July 2019 has led to an increase in blood drives.

Every quarter, University Housing (UH) and Vitalant, a leading blood drive organization on campus, partner to retain rates for blood donations in student housing. Last Fall 2018 to Spring 2019, Cal Poly produced 722 pints of blood in total, which were distributed to local hospitals, according to Laura Kamada, a donor recruitment representative for Vitalant in San Luis Obispo.

“One pint of blood can save up to three lives, the dorms that year saved up to 2,166 lives,” Kamada said.

For 20 years, Vitalant has hosted around 33 blood drives every academic year – or 11 per quarter – according to Julia Bluff, the marketing coordinator for University Housing. 

Lauryn Luescher | Mustang News

Usage from Cal Poly specifically includes trauma and burn patients, premature infants, heart surgery patients, organ transplant recipients and those fighting cancer, according to Kamada. 

“Cancer patients are the largest users of blood,” Kamada said.

According to Kamada, the most significant usage of Cal Poly blood happened in 2018 when a mass shooting that killed 12 people in Thousand Oaks country bar took place. 

“It takes about 1,225 blood donations each week to meet the needs of patients in our region and to be ready for unexpected events. Plus, blood has a shelf life of 42 days,” Kamada said. 

Vitalant performs drives directly both in resident halls and on Dexter Lawn. 

“Cal Poly is a large campus. You’d be hard-pressed to find so many people in one area anywhere else in the county. So, that certainly gives blood donation agencies more potential donors. And, having the opportunity to save a life is special,” Bluff wrote in an email to Mustang News.

The actual process of giving blood takes around 10 to 15 minutes, according to Canyon Gemme, a first-year regular blood donor in Muir Hall. 

“Whenever the representatives for the blood drives come, I sign up right away,” Gemme said. “So far, they’ve all been nice and very efficient. They take my blood, zip it up and store it in chests.”

Protocol for collecting and storing blood remains reportedly followed by participants, however some of the restrictions placed on those that Vitalant follows permitted by the FDA have caused recent controversy about the drives. 

Restrictions for who can donate rely a lot on the person’s current health status. These may include anemia, weight, HIV status, medication and recent tattoos. 

Donors may not have had anal sex in the prior 12 months to donating. Therefore, some sexually active gay men feel neglected from the system as a whole. Flyers were posted in some resident halls following a blood drive calling out Vitalant for their restrictions. 

“I understand why the rule itself exists due to the HIV prone style of sexual contact, but I can also see the want to donate in a national shortage and being turned away knowing the only reason is because you have no other choice as a gay man,” Gemme said. 

However, Kamada said Vitalant is all inclusive and turns no one away based on race, gender or sexual orientation.

“We follow FDA, federal and state regulations. All blood centers follow these same protocols. Our regulations are always under evaluation and often change. The ultimate goal is the safety of the blood,” Kamada said. 

The next blood February blood drives will take place Feb. 18 and 19 in yakʔitʸutʸu from 3 to 7 p.m. and Feb. 26 in Sequoia from 3  to 7 p.m. 

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