Blood -- the only gift a Soldier really needs
February 24, 2012
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Last year, 46 people did a remarkable thing -- they helped save a Soldier's life. Incredibly, these people were not part of any medical team. They didn't even know this Soldier.
They simply volunteered one hour of their time to roll up a sleeve and donate blood.
Because of their efforts, one more military child will grow up with her father, and another devoted spouse will have her partner. The Soldier, Sgt. Ben Eberle, 25, was assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas. During a deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, Eberle was on foot patrol and stepped on an improvised explosive device plate. He lost both legs and his right hand from the explosion. His trauma team used 46 units of blood to save him. This month, Eberle and his wife will welcome their first child.
Eberle's life-saving blood was shipped from the Fort Bliss, Texas, Blood Donor Center, which is one of 22 blood collection sites for the Armed Services Blood Program. In addition to blood collected from Fort Huachuca, the center also coordinates blood drives at seven other area installations.
The ASBP is a joint operation between the Army, Air Force and Navy. All donations remain within the military for servicemembers, family members, and retirees.
For Lori Kuczmanski, ASBP public affairs/blood donor coordinator at the Fort Bliss William Beaumont Army Medical Center, Texas, it is success stories such as Eberle's that illustrate the connection between blood drives, particularly those at Fort Huachuca, and lives saved.
"Fort Huachuca is a really good place to collect from because of the strong student population that has not deployed, which means very few deferrals," Kuczmanski stated.
"We get about 125 units per day from there; two days it's about 250. Here at Fort Bliss, because of our deployments and because our older population [which] has been to Europe are deferred because of mad cow disease, we're lucky if we get 75 [units] a day. We really, really count on Fort Huachuca to fill in what we're not doing here at Fort Bliss," said Kuczmanski.
In 2011, Fort Huachuca donated 1,836 units, which is 230 gallons of blood. While encouraged by those numbers, Kuczmanski said she "would like to see more spouses and FRGs (Family Readiness Groups) joining our donor rosters."
According to Kuczmanski, it is not fear of the donation process, but simply a lack of knowledge that keeps new donors from walking in the door.
"They don't know that the ASBP is the official military blood program," she said. "I think if they knew that the blood was going to Afghanistan as well as other treatment facilities, helping other servicemembers, they would be more inclined to help. Many people don't understand the importance of blood until it hits home or somebody close to them," said Kuczmanski.
One person who felt it hit home was Michael Collins. Although only 17, Collins recently became one of the thousands every year whose altruism earns them the title, "blood donor."
At a blood drive at Eifler Fitness Center, Collins' confident demeanor and strong handshake belied that this was his first donation. He says he was he was motivated to donate, "because of her [his mother] and me wanting to support my father who is in Afghanistan." Sitting next to him was Julie Nicholson, his mother, who is an ASBP donor employed at Network Enterprise Technology Command. Nicholson, who granted consent to Collins' donation, said she donates blood to "do her part."
Collins moved effortlessly through the screening stations in the gym. A quiet hum of conversation between donors and phlebotomists filled the room. Almost on cue, as Collins was approaching the final station, Bruce Springsteen's voice on a nearby CD player provided an unspoken surge of patriotism as he sang, "I was born in the U.S.A.! Born in the U.S.A.!"
Finally, in the blue vinyl donation recliner, Collins offered his right arm. As the small needle was inserted, he turned away, just for a moment.
"You all right?" his mom asked.
"I'm actually pretty good!" Collins replied. "It's just the anticipation, you know?"
Apparently, the experience was more than pretty good for Collins.
"When we were sitting for the snacks and drinks, he also decided to sign up for the bone marrow registry. Complete shock, but made me an even prouder Momma!" said Nicholson. Donors must remain at the donation site for at least 10 minutes after the donation to ensure they are not light-headed after they give blood. Refreshments are provided while they wait. Collins made his decision during the brief stay.
ASBP donors are not limited to military personnel. Anyone may donate as long as they qualify. Persons who are deferred from donating may still contribute by encouraging others to donate and organizing or volunteering at a blood drive.
Go to http://www.militaryblood.dod.mil to learn the general guidelines for donating blood.
The next blood drive at Fort Huachuca is scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, 3 -- 9 p.m. at Eifler Fitness Center. For more information, contact Lori Kuczmanski, lori.a.kuczmanski@AMEDD.ARMY.MIL.
To learn about the bone marrow registry, go to http://www.dodmarrow.org.
"If you really want to help a Soldier, donate blood," said Kuczmanski.