Blood donor
Blood donor Sejana Yoo watches as phlebotomist Benita Mendez adjusts the tubes while she makes a blood donation in the Robertson Blood Center at Fort Hood, Texas, Jan. 12. (Photo Credit: Brandy Cruz, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HOOD, Texas - Saving lives – one drop at a time – are the human hands drawing the blood, answering questions and most importantly, caring for the heroes who are willing to step up to make a donation to the Armed Services Blood Program.

The Robertson Blood Center here is one of 21 donor centers located throughout the armed forces, created to provide life-saving blood and plasma donations to service members located throughout the world.

“Knowing that all the work that goes on here is to save a life, you go home at night feeling that you’ve done a good job,” Capt. Lowell Listerud, director of the Robertson Blood Center, said. “That what you’ve done has made a difference to somebody out there.”

In fact, the other employees at the center share similar feelings about the varied roles they play in saving lives. Some serve as phlebotomists, those who collect the blood donations; some serve as medical lab technicians, those who conduct testing of blood samples to ensure they have a good sample; and some serve as medics, who perform a variety of tasks with a goal of saving lives.

Christina Jayne is a phlebotomist and former Army medic who served with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment.

“For me, it’s kind of like coming home,” Jayne said about working with the Robertson Blood Center. “It’s kind of near and dear to my heart to serve others, especially Soldiers.”

Sarahi Wilson is a medical lab technician who specializes in apheresis, the removal of blood plasma from the body. The process, which takes about 45 minutes, includes withdraws blood, separates the plasma and then returns the remaining blood to the donor.

“I like what the mission here stands for, I like what we do and I like how we support the troops,” Wilson explained. “As a civilian, you’re always hearing ‘support your troops,’ but we don’t always know how to do that when we’re not affiliated with the military. For me, being here and being part of this mission is my way of supporting the troops and their families.”

Sgt. Brett Knox is a reservist from 7378th Medical Blood Detachment in Mesa, Arizona, currently attached to Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center. The Army medic, who previously helped treat casualties coming into Germany off the front lines, said it means a lot to him to now have the opportunity to work on the backend of the treatment.

“Seeing things from this end, it kind of brings together the whole picture,” Knox said. “I like being part of that.”

Giving the gift of life
Phlebotomist Lori Hinton uses the pressure of her finger to adjust blood flow in the arm of donor Amanda van Loon in the Robertson Blood Center at Fort Hood, Texas, Jan. 12. Blood donations can be made every eight weeks and blood plasma can be donated every 28 days. (Photo Credit: Brandy Cruz, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

January is National Blood Donor Month and blood donations are more critical now than ever before.

“COVID-19 has absolutely hurt our nation’s supply of blood. Blood donations are down, but blood demand has not gone down. People are still getting into car accidents, people are still getting into situations where blood is needed,” Listerud explained. “With donations down and demand staying the same, we are at a critical, critical point. Not just here, but at all blood donation centers.”

Donors must be at least 17 years old, 115 pounds and in good health. Excluding factors vary, so it is recommended to go into the Robertson Blood Center to find out if you can be considered as a donor.

For those who were previously excluded from donating after living in Europe in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, some of the banned countries have been lifted, allowing thousands of service members and families to now donate blood and plasma. Potential donors will need to be interviewed by the Robertson Blood Center to determine if they are eligible.

“We interview potential donors to make sure they qualify,” Jayne said. “We want a good product and it starts in the interview room.”

Anyone who is feeling ill should not go into the blood center. Wait until the illness has subsided before donating. Donors can donate blood every eight weeks, or plasma every 28 days. Knox said the donors who return every eight weeks on the dot are his favorite ones to see.

“I get to know their names and they get to know mine. Their level of commitment to serving, I really like seeing that,” he added. “It means we’re doing something right and so are they.”

The Robertson Blood Center is open from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays. Those interested in donating can call 254-285-5808 to make an appointment or go directly to the blood center, at 2250 West 761st Tank Battalion Avenue.