The past couple of years have seen a bad news/good news scenario for the blood donation situation at the Eden Prairie location of Memorial Blood Centers.
The bad news? “Even before the pandemic, we were experiencing a blood shortage in the country and around the world – the United States has been in a deficit for years – and the pandemic made it much worse,” said Wendy Capetz, director of marketing for Memorial Blood Centers.
Traditionally, in 2019 and before, about half of Memorial Blood Centers’ donation collections came from fixed site donor centers, with the other half coming from mobile blood drives hosted by businesses, community and religious organizations.
“When everybody started working from home, and remote schooling, we lost half of our blood supply,” Capetz said. By the numbers: in 2019, there were 71 blood drives in Eden Prairie. In 2021, there were 11.
Blood donations increased at Eden Prairie Donor Center
Although blood drives are making a comeback – there is one at Eden Prairie’s Wild Prairie Harley Davidson on March 19 – the fixed site donor centers became even more important over the past couple of years. In the past two years, Capetz said, the Eden Prairie Donor Center has seen an increase of over 40% in donations, going from over 9,000 individual donations in 2019 to over 14,000 individual donations in 2021.
Expanded hours at the donor center in 2020 and 2021, as well as trusting relationships between the staff and regular donors, helped with this increase, Capetz said.
Erin Strot, a 12-year Eden Prairie resident who has donated blood regularly for 10 of those years, agreed. “Aside from needing to wear masks, I really haven’t noticed any difference in the experience,” she said. “Everybody is still as friendly as can be.”
Masks, however, have had an additional impact on the blood donation supply. “Because we’re a health care organization, we take care we’re following the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) regulations closely,” Capetz said. When it comes to face mask requirements, “some people don’t like that,” she said. “We have to respect that, but it means we have another gap in our blood supply.”
Although Memorial Blood Centers is a nonprofit organization that receives no federal funding, it is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and required to ask potential donors a series of health-related questions.
“You come in to donate when you’re feeling healthy and well,” Capetz said. This means that, for example, if someone has been ill with COVID-19, they should wait 14 days after feeling no symptoms to donate blood. If people feel well after receiving an mRNA vaccine like the Moderna or Pfizer COVID vaccinations, or the Johnson & Johnson viral vector COVID vaccination, the FDA allows them to donate blood with no waiting period.
EP center contributed to the nation’s COVID-19 convalescent plasma stockpile
Former COVID patients did contribute to a nationwide effort to collect COVID Convalescent Plasma (CCP) in 2020 and 2021. Antibodies from the blood of recovered patients were used to help alleviate the disease in hospitalized COVID patients.
Memorial Blood Centers contributed about 9,000 units to the nation’s stockpile of CCP. In Eden Prairie, 173 CCP donations were made at the donor center from 2020 through February 2021. This included more than 60 first-time donors. Blood centers are no longer collecting CCP because other COVID treatments are now available, and there is a remaining stockpile, Capetz said.
The Eden Prairie Donor Center is regularly a site that accepts all four types of donations that Memorial Blood Centers collects: whole blood, double red cells, plasma and platelets. Not all of MBC’s 10 locations – six in the metro area and four in northern Minnesota plus Superior, Wisconsin – accept all types.
Whole blood is the most common donation, Capetz said, with about two cups (1 pint) collected from a donor; after being tested and extracted into its components, that donation becomes a pharmaceutical unit of about 200 milliliters, Capetz said. A plasma donation unit is about 200 to 250 milliliters.
Although usually a whole blood donor, Strot donated platelets for the first time this winter. “Usually, for a whole blood donor, you’re just hooked up for maybe 15 minutes,” Strot said. “Blood goes out of the needle into a bag, and then you’re done. With the platelet donation, you’re actually hooked up to a machine that will take out blood, filter out what it needs, and then pump it back into you, so it was a longer process, about 70 minutes – I got to watch a movie,” she said. The chairs at the donor center, she noted, have a screen that comes down in front of the donor and allows them to pick their viewing option.
Strot also noted that the past couple of years have required donors to be “more intentional” about scheduling appointments rather than deciding to do so on the spur of the moment.
EP blood donations support regional hospitals, clinics, air ambulances
In addition to being a regular blood donor herself, Strot also works as a training specialist for the donor testing lab at Memorial Blood Centers’ St. Paul headquarters. “We test all the blood that comes in for infectious diseases and blood type, as well as the presence of antibodies that could cause transfusion reactions,” she explained.
The lab also serves as a testing site for blood collected at other donor centers around the country. “That’s probably been the biggest challenge we’ve noticed in our lab: the flight schedules and flights to get shipments on went really wonky,” Strot said.
This makes a difference because blood can be a perishable product. Depending on different sites’ handling protocols, for example, platelets can be good for five to seven days on the shelf, Strot said. “You lose a day between collection and tests and then transport, so you could lose up to two, two and a half days of shelf time just waiting for the blood to be cleared to be released,” she said. Timing can be very critical to some clients, she noted, “especially if they’re way out in the middle of nowhere and they already don’t have a large population to draw from.”
Donations from Memorial Blood Centers support most of the hospitals in the region, including Children’s, Fairview, Hennepin County Medical Center, and Ridgeview, as well as multiple clinics and two air ambulance services, North Memorial and Life Link III, Capetz said.
The air ambulances carry O-negative blood, “which is universal and can be given to anybody in an emergency,” Capetz said. “We supply them so they’re able to transfuse blood in the field.”
“Even though there’s a pandemic going on, there are still cancer patients, people having surgeries, accident victims, who need blood transfusions,” Capetz said. “We’re a community resource to support the health of the community.”
“There’s a reason the Midwest is called the ‘blood basket,’” Strot said. “We have high civic engagement, and I think that continues as well in Eden Prairie. We have a very engaged community. I think what keeps me coming back as a donor is just knowing that’s it’s something simple I can do: give up an hour of time and go save lives.
“We can’t manufacture fake blood for people yet,” Strot continued. “That’s why you let somebody shove a needle in your arm and drain out blood or give up 70 minutes of time on a Saturday morning.”
The Eden Prairie Memorial Blood Centers Donor Center is located at 12200 Middleset Road, Suite 500. To find out more about donating, visit mbc.org or call 888-448-3253.
Interested in donating blood? Here’s how …
Memorial Blood Centers’ Eden Prairie Donor Center is located in the Lariat Office Building at 12200 Middleset Road, Suite 500.
It can occasionally be challenging for new donors to find, said Wendy Capetz, Memorial Blood Centers’ director of marketing. “If we say ‘It’s by Wal-Mart,’ they say, ‘No, it’s not.’ If we say ‘by the carwash,’ they drive past it,” she said. Other businesses located in the strip mall include All About Children Pediatrics and Kumon tutoring center; it is behind the Flying Cloud Drive Walgreens location and across Middleset Road from Fat Pants Brewing Company.
Current hours at the Eden Prairie Donor Center are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, and 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. (Although hours were expanded in 2020 and 2021, staffing shortages have reduced hours in 2022.)
You can schedule a donation by visiting mbc.org and clicking on “donate” or by calling 888-448-3253. The website also offers the option to input your zip code and find other nearby donor centers or blood drives open to the public.
If you or your organization would like to host a blood drive, click on “Support Us” on the navigation bar at mbc.org to get in touch with a Memorial Blood Centers team member who will help you coordinate one. MBC would like at least 35 people pledged to donate at a blood drive, Capetz said; smaller groups or organizations can plan a “donor day” or “donor week” at the Eden Prairie Donor Center.
“It’s a place where you’re coming in and giving the gift of life,” Capetz said. “Every blood donor is a volunteer, and we can’t do it without volunteers.”