Copyright 2004
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University Gazette

In the days of kings and queens, nobility was judged to be an innate quality carried and passed on in blood.

MOUNTING THE DRIVE Katrina Coble, business manager for computer science, organizes blood drive recruiter packets in her Sitterson Hall office. The drive is scheduled for June 9, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Smith Center. To schedule a time to donate, call 96-BLOOD (962-5663) or see www.sph.unc.edu/blood/.

Here at the University, a different kind of tradition has emerged that some would say is far nobler: the act of giving blood in order to sustain life.

The tradition began 16 years ago with Ed Phillips, the director of business operations in Facilities Services, and his assistant, Debbie Anderson.

In the beginning, sites used for the summer blood drive were the Carolina Inn and Facility Services' buildings on Airport Drive.

Eventually, the Smith Center was made available to accommodate a growing number of donors, and five years ago, a winter blood drive was started as well. In recent years, Human Resources has earmarked funding to plan and promote the drives and designated a paid employee to lead the effort.

But a year ago, belt-tightening measures forced upon the University by budget cuts appeared for a time to put the drive at risk. The staff position in Human Resources that had coordinated this event was revamped in the spring of 2003. The responsibility for putting the blood drive together was moved to H.E.E.L.S. for Health. Not long after, budget cuts led to that program being abolished at that time, leaving members of the Blood Drive Committee not knowing for sure what was going on.

These sudden and unanticipated circumstances left a leadership void on the committee that everyone knew had to be filled if a summer blood drive was going to happen.

And it was about this time that Katrina Coble, like a knight in shining armor, hopped on her white horse and took charge.

Getting involved
Coble, the business manager for the computer science department, can still remember the day she became committed to the cause.

It was during the blood drive kickoff of 1993, and Anderson arrived to speak with her twin 3-year-old girls in tow.

'Blood: A gift from the hearts of Carolina'

The 16th Annual University-wide Blood Drive will be held June 9 from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Dean E. Smith Center.

Organizers encourage Carolina employees to help the drive reach its goal of 1,000 units of blood in a single day.

The blood drive here is the largest single-day, single-collection-site blood drive on the East Coast. Carolina's 15 annual summer drives -- combined with its five annual winter drives -- have produced some 17,000 units of blood that have helped to save nearly 50,000 lives in the Triangle area community.

To schedule a time to donate, call 96-BLOOD (962-5663) or go to www.sph.unc.edu/blood/.

Many departments or work units have Blood Drive Recruiters who can provide more information and assist you with scheduling appointments. A list of recruiters is available on the blood drive web site.

Along with donors, the drive needs volunteers to assist with registration, set-up, the canteen, escorting donors to and from the donation area and parking. You can sign up online to volunteer at www.sph.unc.edu/blood/ to volunteer.

For more information about donor eligibility and other questions related to giving blood, see www.sph.unc.edu/blood/.

Participation in the University-wide Blood Drive is considered work time with advance approval of your supervisor.

Her daughters had been born premature, Anderson said, and needed blood in their first weeks of life to live.

Coble couldn't help thinking about her own 2-year-old daughter. A newborn baby needs only a cup of blood to stay alive? What would she have felt like if her daughter had needed that one cup and it wasn't there?

"I listened to her story, and I concluded that the only way to be an effective blood drive recruiter was to begin donating myself," Coble said.

"I had never thought anything about it before, frankly I was scared to death of needles, but Debbie's story was so moving that I felt I had to give. I had no choice."

But Coble's commitment now is driven less by emotions than the facts that she can recite as easily as her children's names.

"The statistics will tell you that less than 5 percent of the U.S. population gives blood, yet approximately 96 percent of us will need a blood product at some point during our lifetime," she said.

People need blood for so many different reasons it is hard to predict the whens or whys -- a reality driven home for Coble in December of 1996 when her 80-year-old grandfather Ira Braxton was diagnosed with sideroblastic anemia. The family was told that he could live quite a while with the anemia but that he would have to receive blood when his blood count dropped too low.

Seven months after the diagnosis, doctors discovered her grandfather also had multiple myeloma -- a form of cancer that destroys the white blood cells that fight infection.

"Granddaddy lived 18 months after he was diagnosed with anemia, and they were good months," Coble said. "His life was sustained by blood, and receiving blood was the only treatment he had for both disorders. That meant his body did not have to be ravaged by the effects of chemotherapy, and he was able to live his life as he normally would until the end."

It was during this period of her grandfather's illness that Coble began serving on the Blood Drive Committee and helping to lead recruitment efforts.

Just as Anderson did with her daughters, Coble has turned her grandfather's experience into a story to share with others to get them to see what she saw.

After hearing Anderson four years before, she decided she had to give.

After her grandfather's experience, Coble felt an even more powerful urge: the desire to give back.

In those 18 months, her grandfather received 64 units of blood that helped to keep him alive.

"I want to give back at least 64 units of blood in my lifetime to replace what was so preciously given to him," she said.

Keeping the drive alive
Anne Webb, a Blood Drive Committee member, said the drive is a unique enterprise within the University because it happens through the work of more than 200 volunteers. Their commitment has sustained and expanded the drive to what it is today, Webb said.

"The whole committee and the day itself are very special when you stop and consider how many people are being helped," Webb said. "It is the second-largest one-day drive in the nation. We have always been so proud of it, and we've had a lot of support from the University.

"Our committee, and particularly Katrina, didn't want to see it die. What we really needed last year was somebody to be a leader, somebody to say, `OK, I'm going to take on this responsibility.'"

What Coble did, in effect, was to assume much of the responsibility for the planning and preparation for the blood drive that had previously been done by others. Coble's willingness to do that, and success in pulling it off, led Webb to nominate her for the Robert E. Bryan Public Service Award, an honor Coble received earlier this year.

"Even before she took over the committee, everyone tended to bounce ideas off Katrina because she cared so much," Webb said. "She is so involved, I think, because it comes from her heart. This is her cause, and she is dedicated to making it happen."

'It doesn't cost anything'
The 2003 summer drive was staged on July 22 with the help of 200 volunteers, more than 1,200 donors, 150 recruiters and 75 local food and merchant vendors.

Other members of the committee who helped make it happen were Webb, Bob Schreiner and Leslie Cornell from the School of Public Health, Becky Eatmon with the School of Pharmacy, Deborah Hawkins with public safety, Clayton Womble at the Smith Center and Shelly Green, who works in Employee Services.

"It's amazing what a group of dedicated people can do, and last year's drive was proof of that," Green said.

Within a 12-hour period, the drive yielded 1,031 productive units of blood, enough to supply 70 percent of the needs for one full day in all the hospitals that the American Red Cross serves within its Carolinas Region.

"We hit the goal and went over, and that was the first time we did that in several years. That was definitely icing on the cake," Green said.

"It could have easily been gone, but I think that the administration understands the importance of this event and the degree to which all employees and community members look forward to it each year," Green said. "For people who have been doing this for years, it's sort of like a reunion."

In December, the winter blood drive collected 273 productive units of blood with help from 300 donors and 65 volunteers.

Over their existence, the two drives together have produced about 17,000 units of blood that would later be given to nearly 50,000 people.

The work continues this year, Coble said. On May 13, the committee had its annual kickoff for the blood drive that will be held this year on June 9 -- some six weeks earlier than usual.

Coble's goal is to have at least one recruiter in each building or department on campus. Currently, there are 150 recruiters. Large buildings should have more than one, she said.

As in other years, Coble will encounter people who object to the idea of giving blood, and no doubt they voice the fears she has heard repeated many times before, from the fear of needles to worries about getting AIDS.

There is zero chance of contracting AIDS when giving blood, Coble said.

As for the needle, she suggests pinching a little skin on your forearm for a few seconds. The pain you will feel is about the same as what a needle would cause. If you can stand that little bit of pain, you can probably stand the prick of a needle, too.

There is one fact that Coble sees as the clincher when it comes to getting people to see the beauty of giving.

The human body has 10 to 12 units of blood and can replenish a unit of blood, which is slightly less than a pint, within 48 hours, and to committed blood drive volunteers that's about as good as finding out money can grow on trees.

"It's a wonderful feeling to participate in something that can do so much and cost so little," Coble said.