Lives were being saved at the Hermiston Public Library on Monday.

While patrons browsed through books on the main floor, people were trickling downstairs into a city-sponsored Red Cross blood drive.

Karis Miller, one of several phlebotomists on-site, said Red Cross employees in the Tri-Cities area spend their days traveling to churches, athletic clubs, libraries, hospitals, schools and other places willing to host a drive.

“We do a lot of high schools,” she said. “People 19 and under make up a good 30 to 40 percent of what we collect.”

On the other end of the spectrum are many retired donors who have been donating regularly for years.

“The older donors who donate all the time are starting to pass away and the next generation isn’t stepping up,” Miller said.

After the blood is collected, it is sent to a processing center in Portland where it is tested for diseases, such as hepatitis, and separated out into three components: red blood cells, plasma and platelets. The components are then packaged and sent to hospitals, which have a contract with the Red Cross for a certain amount of blood per month in addition to extra supplies during a crisis. Red blood cells can be stored for up to 42 days, platelets are stored for up to five days and plasma can be frozen and saved for up to a year.

Usually blood processed at the Portland center will stay nearby, but if there is a surplus or a greater need somewhere else in the country, a donation in Oregon could end up in a patient in North Carolina.

If a hospital in Eastern Oregon needs more blood urgently, they don’t have to wait for it to be brought all the way from Portland.

David Rodriguez, a volunteer working at the blood drive Monday, is one of the volunteers on call 24 hours a day to transport blood. When Good Shepherd Medical Center has an unexpected number of patients coming into the emergency room in need of blood, for example, he might get a call that he needs to pick some up from Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland and bring it down to Hermiston.

On Monday, Rodriguez was doing everything from checking people in to bringing over snacks to a first-time donor who was feeling too faint to get up from the cot.

“I’m a people person, and I enjoy getting to go out and meet new people and help these folks,” he said.

He said before he started volunteering for the Red Cross six and a half years ago he was a blood donor. He felt especially grateful for the opportunity to donate after his father had emergency surgery and needed seven pints of blood (donors give a pint at a time).

“It’s just always important,” he said. “People don’t look at it that way, but it could be your own family member or close friend.”

Miller said she finds many of the Red Cross’s donors are inspired by someone close to them whose life was saved by donated blood or plasma.

In addition to its life-saving potential, Miller said donating blood a few times a year also has several health benefits for the donor, including increased cardiovascular health.

“It’s really good for your body, especially men, because they don’t have menstrual periods and so they don’t lose that blood,” she said. “So it’s kind of like an oil change for them. It takes the old stuff out and forces their body to make new.”

Reporter

Reporter covering city government and economic development in Hermiston, Umatilla, Stanfield and Echo.

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