FORT BENNING, Ga. - Without blood donations from the American Red Cross, SSG(R) Vernon and Dr. Cheryl Swanier would have lost three of their four children.

"It's the difference between life and death," said Cheryl, a resident of Upatoi, Ga.
Olubunmi, Cheryl's oldest child, now 20, was in a near-fatal car crash Aug. 7, 2006. It was the first day of her senior year in high school.

"She could have bled to death, but because the American Red Cross had the blood available and was able to get (it) to the hospital in a timely fashion, they were able to save her life," Cheryl said.

Blood transfusions, like the one Olubunmi received in 2006, have been a way of life for two other Swanier children, both diagnosed with sickle cell anemia at birth. Eleven-year-old Anna received several blood transfusions through the Red Cross before her bone marrow transplant from her sister Kalei two years ago, Cheryl said.

Eight-year-old Joshua, however, still depends on the occasional transfusion.

Knowing other families face similar challenges, Cheryl said she and her husband donate blood regularly.

"Giving blood saves lives ... saved my kids," Cheryl said. "You never know when it may hit your own household. The need is there. If the blood supply is not available, people could die."

Blood donations are in even higher demand around this time of year, said Michele Walton, Fort Benning's Red Cross station coordinator.

"At the holiday season, the need is greater because more people are traveling; more people (get in accidents) on the road," she said. "But the need is always great. I've been with the Red Cross a long time, and I can't ever recall when we've had enough blood or we've been close to having enough blood. It saves lives every day. There is always a shortage."

For people with busy schedules, Walton said the blood donor center is flexible. They allow appointments and walk-ins. Regular donors can get on a rotation schedule for every six weeks.

This year, Walton encourages community members to "give the gift of life," she said.
To donate, those 17 and older can call 800-448-3543 or stop by 7490 Veterans Parkway. The next blood drive will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday at Columbus State University.

The donor center is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 706-317-3529 or visit