CHICOPEE – While the mayors joked they gave enough blood in the last week with planned cuts in local aid, they still rolled up their sleeves and donated much needed pints during the 4th Annual Mayoral Challenge for the American Red Cross Blood Drive on Tuesday.
WWLP 22 News hosted the blood drive at their studios in Chicopee. Holyoke Mayor Michael J. Sullivan and his fellow mayors began the challenge to bring attention to the need for blood.
Agawam Mayor Susan R. Dawson, who was joined by town department heads, offered support to residents who donated blood. She said she made phone calls and sent emails to get the word out.
“It’s amazing for me people today will actually respond if they’re asked,” said Dawson. “It think that seems to be the general consensus around giving blood. People need to be asked and then they’ll come.”
Dawson said people should to be reminded periodically about the importance of blood donation.
“I was a recipient of blood and had there not been blood on hand the night I was involved in a motorcycle accident on August 24 of 2001, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Dawson.
Dawson was passenger on a motorcycle that was hit by a stolen car in Springfield. Besides the blood she received while being treated for the accident, Dawson is a breast cancer survivor who had gone through countless therapies to battle the disease.
“What more can you do than to give life to another human being. You know what, it doesn’t cost anything,” said Dawson. She said the Agawam Fire Department regularly holds blood drives.
It was Dawson’s second Mayoral Challenge since she took office last year. She said the challenge brings out her competitive streak.
“I hate to lose, so if I can have more people her than anyone else, not only is my community and the rest of the adjoining communities positively affected, I get to win.”
Though Dawson believes that the announced cuts in local aid by the governor will cause hardships, residents should not stop participating in local charitable or community events.
“We can do things, especially during these times when it’s so tough. People will hit a low. Do something for someone else and you bring yourself back up. Giving blood is an easy thing to do,” said Dawson.
Janet Tierney, Account Executive with the American Red Cross Blood Services, said Sullivan sends out the yearly challenge to his fellow mayors and residents in those communities.
Tierney organizes blood drives throughout Western Mass., She said January is the most difficult month to collect blood. The Mayor’s Challenge brings in 100 pints or more and helps stave off shortages in local blood supplies.
“We always need blood on the shelfs, there such an incredible demand right now,” said Tierney. “We live in such fortunate times because we have so much medical services available to us. But a lot of that has to be supported with blood products, bone marrow transplants, organ transplants.”
According to Tierney, the greatest users of blood are persons undergoing treatment for cancer. She said protocols that were not available forty-years ago are now saving lives today. It all depends, though, on a precarious supply of blood.
“Usually we do not ever have enough. A lot of times the Red Cross has to import blood from Red Cross areas across the midwest because we have so many hospitals here in New England that require blood,” said Tierney.
In Springfield alone, blood is needed at the heavily used cancer treatment centers at Mercy Hospital and Bay State Medical Center said Tierney.
“We say, ‘what you’re giving is the gift of life,’ and we say it so many times, but you really are,” said Tierney, “I know from personal experience. My dad had cancer and he needed transfusions for eight years and it kept him alive for eight years. There’s so many people like him out there.”
She said the Red Cross appreciates when people step up during national tragedies, such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. Rarely told are the day-to-day stories of individuals in need of blood supplies.
Even when blood is drawn from a premature baby for a test, according to Tierney, the baby loses a great deal of blood from the simple procedure.
Tierney relates a story of two unrelated traumas on the same day a few years back in Connecticut.
“A women in New Britain had a bad car accident, another was in Hartford had a difficult birth. Between the two women they used the state’s entire supply of O Negative blood,” said Tierney. “It was thirty-units of O negative blood on the shelfs and that is the universal donor that can go to anyone in need without having their blood typed.”
She said both women recovered, but those everyday traumas highlight the need for a steady blood supply.
Sullivan, who donates blood a few times a year, said people need to drop their reservations about donating blood or their fear of needles.
“Once people get beyond it, they see it’s painless and not a very difficult. It’s a way to help people. After you do it the first time, you find out it’s not really as bad as was predicted to be,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan, who had just donated a pint, sipped juice and munched on Lorna Doone cookies before he left. A small piece of cotton gauze covered the area where the blood was drawn from his arm.
He agreed that blood donation is a form of community service. “It’s something that we have to give for those blessed to be able to give,” said Sullivan. “You should exercise that right. Whether you’re cleaning a park or donating to a food pantry or given blood, it certainly is community service.”
The American Red Cross conducts blood drives everyday in Western Mass. Call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE or their Springfield office at 413-785-0901 to learn more about donations or hosting a blood drive.