Q & A with ICU nurse and first-time blood donor Jennifer Shaw-Metz

By Sanaya SinhaRoy

Jennifer Shaw-Metz – Submitted photo

Living in a community where medical resources come to us easily, it is easy for us to take advantage of the incredible support, supplies and assistance we get in hospitals. But imagine if all of those resources weren’t available to us anymore. According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds, someone is in need of blood. If blood was not accessible to those patients, they would lose the fight of their life.

Jennifer Shaw-Metz is an ICU nurse and works with variety of different injuries, ranging from illnesses like cancer and infections to traumatic injuries such as car accidents or falls. In her work, she witnesses the lifesaving work of blood donations.

Seeing the amount of blood that goes into saving patient lives, it’s upsetting to think about the prospect of a national blood shortage, like the one we experienced in January. Plus, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause worker shortages and supply chain problems, resulting in ongoing delays and disruptions.

Jennifer wants to remedy the situation, even by a little. Here is what she said about her work as an ICU nurse and her take on donating blood.

Q: As an ICU nurse, how many people do you see weekly in need of blood donation?

A: In a given day, it is likely that at least one patient in our ICU is receiving a blood transfusion. They might be receiving 1 unit of blood product, or they could be receiving a mass transfusion of 20 or 30 or more units of blood products!

Q: What motivated you to donate blood?

A: I was well aware that the pandemic had created delays in healthcare and supply chain struggles in society. When I heard that blood products were also in short supply, I felt a very practical and clear tug on my heart that whispered: “If you have something that others need and you are able to share it, then you should do so,” and so I did.

Q: How did you feel after the first time you donated blood?

A: Physically I was surprised that I felt well- no signs of dizziness. Emotionally I was excited to know that I could be practically helpful in someones time of physical need. I had just learned that the Red Cross App would track my donation through the process, so I was also eager to learn where my blood would be sent.

Q: What do you think would happen if there was a national shortage of blood?

A: As an ICU nurse in the United States, I am aware that patients here have the luxury of available services that many others do not have. In many places in the world and during certain times or circumstances (like the pandemic), a patient may need a ventilator or a blood transfusion and a hospital may not have those to offer. But here in America, I am accustomed to seeing equipment, medications, procedures and blood readily available. The thought of NOT having a ventilator for a patient who needs it to live, or the thought of NOT having blood available when needed was morally distressing to me. A lack of available blood would certainly mean a cancer patient will lose the fight of their life. A lack of available blood would certainly mean that trauma patients will die unnecessarily from their injuries when we could have saved them. I have seen with my own eyes how blood products save or sustain life, and without the availability of blood products, someone’s wife or mother or child or friend or father will lose their life. 

Q: What advice would you give to people who are hesitant to donate blood?

A: I would encourage people to focus on the need of others above the difficulty for oneself. I have been needle-phobic all my life but I felt confident to take this step once I realized that giving a small amount of my day and a one time pinch could equal LIFE and HOPE for someone else, it really became an easy choice.

Q: Is there any additional information you would like to share?

A: For anyone donating for the first time I would encourage you to ask questions.  I asked a lot of questions about the process, and it helped me feel much more comfortable while I was at the donation center. Also, being able to track where my donation went was very meaningful for me- it gave a personal connection for me.

To learn more about the blood donation process or to schedule an appointment to donate blood, visit RedCrossBlood.org.

The Rewards of Blood Donation, from a Longtime Donor

By Maria Marabito

June 14, Flag Day, is marked on most Americans’ calendars. But did you know that June 14 is also World Blood Donor Day? This observance, a joint initiative of the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, was created in 2005 for two reasons: to raise awareness of the global need for blood, and to thank blood donors for their lifesaving gifts.

Blood donation is a selfless, honorable act. Blood can’t be manufactured; it can only come from volunteer donors. This year’s theme is “Give blood and keep the world beating.” In the United States alone, about 6.8 million people donate lifesaving blood. Christina McCarthy is one of them.

McCarthy, a clinical assistant at a pain management office, has been giving blood regularly with the Red Cross for about six years now. Like many blood donors, she was inspired to do her part because of a family connection. Her grandfather, who passed away in 2013, had heart issues that landed him in the hospital on a regular basis. He received many transfusions as part of his care, which motivated McCarthy and her family to start donating themselves.

Photo courtesy of Christina McCarthy

McCarthy’s mother was the first in the family to get the ball rolling. Once Christina began working in the medical field, she realized just how important — and how easy— blood donations are. Her sister and some coworkers have since donated as well. 

“I recruited a couple of coworkers for the last blood drive I went to; two women went with me, and now they’re starting to do it on a semi-regular basis as well,” McCarthy says.

The feel-good rewards are immediate, and you’ll be plenty pleased with yourself. But for an extra shot of satisfaction, you can actually find out where your blood donation went: Just use the Red Cross blood donor app. “I like how the Red Cross  tells you when they’ve processed your blood, and they send you an email telling you where it’s going. I think that’s really helpful,” McCarthy says. “I know my last couple of donations have gone to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, so that makes me feel really good.”

The app not only allows you to schedule your donations but also keeps track of them and lets you know when it’s safe to donate again. “I donate every time my app reminds me, so every 48 days or something like that,” McCarthy says. [Editor’s note: you can donate whole blood every 56 days.]

If you’re nervous, McCarthy insists that the needles aren’t bad at all. (New, sterile needles are used and discarded after one use.) You’ll even be given a free mini-physical at your appointment — temperature, blood pressure, pulse and hemoglobin — to ensure that you’re healthy enough to donate that day. But don’t go on an empty stomach: McCarthy says she passed out the first time, because she didn’t eat enough beforehand. (She recommends a large meal.) That didn’t stop her from going again and turning it into a routine. 

Why give blood? “It is one thing you can do that can literally save someone else’s life, and it’s free for you to do and it takes not even a half hour, so why wouldn’t you do it?” McCarthy says.  [Editor’s note: please allow for 1 hour when you schedule a blood donation appointment.]

In fact, a single donation can potentially save up to three lives.  

And in case you were wondering, the pandemic hasn’t stopped the Red Cross from collecting blood. “They’ve been doing a good job at staggering the appointment times so there aren’t too many people at once. It definitely wouldn’t stop me from donating,” McCarthy says.

There are four blood and platelet donation centers and many blood drive collection sites within the five counties of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Finding a location and time is easy: Just use the Red Cross’s online blood drive finder. You can also use the Red Cross blood donor app to schedule and manage appointments. Depending on the type of donation (whole blood, power red, or platelet), you can donate as often as every 56 days. Today’s your day to save a life… or three!

Primary image description: an illustration, with the American Red Cross logo above the words “World Blood Donor Day” in white letters on a dark blue background. Next to the logo and words is a bright red drop with a water-color rendering of the world inside it.

For MontCo Woman, COVID-19 won’t end a decade of blood donation

By: Sophie Kluthe 

Montgomery County resident Kacey D’Amico hit a milestone this year; she’s been donating blood for a decade. Initially inspired by romance, blood donation has become one of the ways she’s given back over the years.  

“I began donating in 2010, when I first started dating my husband. He is an O-negative donor, and has donated over 3 gallons since he began in high school!! When I told him I was also O-negative, he encouraged me to start donating, and it became something that we did together,” D’Amico said.  “An odd sort of date night, going to a blood drive then out for dinner.” 

Kacey D’Amico and her husband, Drew.

In 2020, Red Cross blood drive cancellations tripled compared to the year prior — mostly due to COVID-19. The Red Cross relied on new donors, and faithful donors like D’Amico to make appointments to keep up the blood supply.  

“I just had my 3rd son in July, so I wasn’t able to donate until recently. I kept hearing about blood shortages and knew I wanted to donate as soon as possible. I’ve been able to donate twice since then, and have my next appointment already scheduled for January,” D’Amico said. 

As the pandemic continues, blood donations remain essential to ensuring the health of those in the community. That’s why the Red Cross makes sure each blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control. 

“I feel safe during the process. I use the Rapid Pass through the Blood Donor app and that makes the check-in process quicker. Plus, everyone wears masks and washes their hands. They are constantly cleaning and wiping down surfaces,” D’Amico said. 

To ensure the health of staff and donors blood collection sites have implemented temperature checks for both staff and donors prior to entering a blood drive or donation center, face masks required for everyone, available hand sanitizer throughout the donation process, and social distancing wherever possible. Donors are urged to schedule an appointment prior to arrival to help with social distancing.  

Someone needs blood every two seconds in the U.S. From trauma victims to cancer patients, to those battling sickle cell disease, patients rely on blood donors every day. One blood donation can help up to three people. It’s this impact that D’Amico says, keeps her coming back time and time again.   

“In 2019, I learned that my donations were prioritized to NICUs because I was negative for CMV, a virus that is dangerous for babies. That was a huge motivation for me, knowing that I could help some of the most vulnerable hospital patients. And even if that changes going forward, no matter where my donation goes, I am able to help someone in need, and that is a wonderful feeling.”  

The Red Cross encourages eligible individuals to give blood as we come together to help patients in need. To schedule an appointment to donate, you may use the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.