Health, January 2022

‘These are our friends, family and neighbors’

Cape Fear Valley Blood Donor Center Donations Empower Others

By Kim Hasty

Photography by Roxana Ross & Cindy Burnham

Chemotherapy on Tuesday. Dialysis on Wednesday. And then, on Thursday, there was a passel of donated Christmas gifts waiting to be organized and wrapped for children in need. It was a week in December that would have exhausted many, but Olivia Watler persevered, as usual, on faith, hope and love.

“She’s a prayer warrior,” said Bessie Demetri, a close friend. “That’s where she gets her strength.”

Watler, who oversees the Church on the Street ministry at Northwood Temple Church, would tell you that the generosity and compassion of others are also vital to her inspiring resilience. She was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2019 and frequently requires blood transfusions so that she can continue her cancer treatments. Those lifesaving transfusions would not be possible without the Cape Fear Valley Blood Donor Center and those who volunteer to donate blood at the center.

At Cape Fear Valley Health, approximately 1,100 units of blood are transfused each month. “So that’s 1,100 volunteers we need each month to keep up with local patients’ needs,” said Lindsey Graham, marketing and public relations coordinator at Cape Fear Valley.

Cape Fear Valley Blood Donor Center is the supplier of blood to patients throughout the Cape Fear Valley Health System, which includes Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke and Bladen counties.

“These are our friends, family and neighbors,” Graham said.

January is National Blood Donor Month, a vital designation since blood banks across the country suffer from severe blood shortages during the holidays. That’s a fact that has been amplified due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the holidays, even regular donors can be swept up in hectic schedules, travel and caring for children at home from school on break. Winter months also bring the challenges of colds, flu and inclement weather.

The National Blood Donor Month designation is intended to honor voluntary blood donors as well as to encourage more people to donate at a time when more blood is needed. Graham said the center has been struggling to keep up with the need for O positive and O negative blood. “O positive is the most transfused, and O negative is the universal blood type that can be transfused to anyone,” she said. According to the Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies, a single unit of blood can meet several needs. Red blood cells can be extracted and used to treat patients who have lost blood through trauma or surgery. Plasma is typically given to those requiring treatment to improve blood clotting. Platelets serve to help clot the blood when cuts or other open wounds occur and are often used in the treatment of patients with cancer or those undergoing cardiac surgery. Cape Fear Valley Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit often also uses platelets for vital transfusions in preterm infants. Most people donate whole blood, which takes only about 45 minutes to an hour and can be donated about every two months. Platelet donations take longer, between two and three hours. “A lot of cancer patients require platelet transfusions because their treatment kills off their good cells with their bad,” Graham said. “In order to continue treatment, their platelet count has to be high enough to withstand treatment. Platelets only last for five days, so we’re constantly in need of new platelet donors. That’s why this type of donation is so critical.”

Jennifer Buchanan’s mother long ago instilled in her the importance of community service. It was a lesson that has stayed with Buchanan from the time she was a child growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota. She long ago became a regular blood donor, then began donating platelets over a decade ago when her husband was stationed with the Army in Hawaii. At last count, she had donated an amazing 17 gallons of platelets.

She has passed on that legacy to her adult children, who have been donating since they were 16 years old.

“I like the fact that I’m giving something back,” Buchanan said.

For Olivia Watler, those who give have in turn allowed her to continue to do her own good work. And her ability to help others keeps her from dwelling on the challenges she faces.

“I think this has helped me because it’s not as if I’m staying at home in bed,” she said. “I’m not about to sit there and roll over and die. I am grateful for my life, as I continue in my healing.”

The Cape Fear Valley Blood Donor Center at 3357 Village Drive is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and on the third Saturday of every month. No appointments are needed to donate blood. For information on local upcoming blood drives, visit Cape Fear Valley Health online.