BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - BILOXI, MS (KAFB) - The Keesler Blood Donor Center is one of only three Air Force blood donor centers in the U.S. and among 81 blood banks and blood donor centers worldwide. It is part of the Armed Services Blood Program, a joint health agency created to coordinate the blood programs of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
According to the ASBP, the key to its success is the ability to collect blood from donors at locations worldwide. Blood donor centers, like the one at Keesler, are responsible for collecting, processing and shipping blood products for local use and support of worldwide military operations. Keesler's blood donor center is located in the Arnold Medical Annex, near the new post office and just off Meadows Drive.
Lisa Lynn is the recruiter for the center and is responsible for making sure the center meets its quotas each week.
"Most people don't even know we exist, much less where we are. So we need to go to them." said Ms. Lynn.
Through numerous blood drives at various locations on base and other military and federal installations off-base, Ms. Lynn is able to meet her quotas.
"A pint of blood can actually save three lives," said Ms. Lynn.
After blood is drawn from a donor, it is taken back to the center for processing. There it is placed in a centrifuge about the size of a large washing machine and is separated and 'expressed' into its three main components -- red blood cells, plasma and platelets. From there, blood is sent to McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., for further processing and distribution.
If the blood is going to Iraq or Afghanistan, it needs to be there within five to seven days from the time it was drawn.
From cancer patients to service members injured on the battlefield, blood is needed for many reasons. And the types of blood are just as varied. Each person has a certain type of blood and is either positive or negative for the presence of the Rh antigen.
"O negs and ABs are the hard part," said Ms. Lynn as she described the challenges of collecting blood.
Only 7 percent of the population is O negative. However, the other 93 percent of the population can receive O negative blood, making those with this blood type the universal donor. O negative blood is used in emergency situations when there is no time to test for blood type.
ABs are the rarest blood type comprising only 4 percent of the population. Those with AB positive or negative blood types are "universal plasma donors," meaning all other blood types can receive AB plasma.
Along with finding donors with rare blood types, there are a host of other challenges for blood donor centers. Anyone deployed to malaria-endemic regions in the past five years are deferred for one year. Those testing positive or at risk of exposure to HIV or hepatitis are deferred permanently. Recent donations, tattoos, women with iron deficiencies or who are pregnant are among the reasons for partial deferment.
Summer and holidays are times when the numbers of donors are typically down. Still, Ms. Lynn encourages anyone who can get on the base to stop by the donor center and give blood.
Before giving blood, a staff member will walk each donor through a quick pre-screening and registration process which determines eligibility, making sure they meet certain criteria. Then, a technician will perform a quick physical -- recording weight, temperature, pulse and blood pressure of the donor. They also perform a "finger stick" to obtain a small amount of blood to test for hemoglobin.
If all measures fall within the accepted guidelines, it's time to give blood.
"Our center is clean. Our staff is well trained and professional and we have free cookies and drinks when you're finished," said Ms. Lynn.
For more information about donating blood or scheduling blood drives, call (228) 376-6100.