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Snapshot: Laura Merritt

by on January 19, 2017 5:00 AM

Laura Merritt knows the importance of blood donation all too well.

“I had a family member who passed away. He needed blood, but there wasn’t enough at that time,” says Merritt, who lives and works in State College as the donor-recruitment representative for the Greater Alleghenies Region of the American Red Cross. “That was the moment when I realized how important blood donation was.”

She also has seen first-hand the positive impact of blood donation. She visits patients from time to time and remembers a 6-year-old girl who had leukemia.

“Blood transfusions really bought her some time so that her doctors could figure out a treatment,” she says. “And now, five years later, she is in remission and leading a normal life. That is what keeps you going, no matter how difficult it is. … I love what I do because it’s meaningful — it saves lives.”

As a donor-recruitment representative, she is responsible for blood collection in Centre County and Clearfield County. She also is in charge of organizing blood-donation events and recruiting sponsors, organizations, and volunteers who donate their time and energy to help with the events. Before joining the Red Cross in 2010, she worked in the pharmaceutical industry.

January is National Blood Donor Month, and although the need for blood products has gone down over the past few years, the American Red Cross is always in need of more donations. According to official statistics, only 40 percent of the population are eligible to donate blood, and only 7 percent of that 40 percent come out and donate.

Recently, after several rounds of severe winter weather in many parts of the country, the Red Cross has urged eligible blood and platelet donors to help overcome shortages. Since Dec. 1, about 300 blood drives in 27 states have been canceled because of winter weather, resulting in more than 10,500 blood and platelet donations going uncollected. Upcoming local blood drives can be found here.

Since there are common misconceptions about donating, education has become a crucial part to the blood-donation process. For example, Merritt says, people may think of donating as harmful and dangerous to human health. But, in fact, it is actually very healthy because donating rejuvenates a person’s blood system.

“I spend a lot of time doing presentations. We have great programs for elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools,” she says. “Although some students are not old enough to donate blood yet, it is the perfect time to educate them about blood donations.”

Eligibility is determined before the actual blood-donation process starts. There are questionnaires, readings, and physicals that all donors have to go through, and Red Cross staff check to make sure a donor’s iron level, blood pressure, and heart rate are within appropriate ranges.

“We always make sure that the blood we collect is healthy, and the donors won’t be harmed during the process. It is extremely safe,” Merritt says.

Every year, American Red Cross holds multiple blood-drive campaigns during the year to encourage people to donate. For example, on December 6, there was a blood drive held in the President’s Suite in Beaver Stadium. People who went enjoyed the nice view and food donated by DelGrosso Foods. And for more than 30 years, Penn State and Michigan State have had a blood-drive challenge each year.

“Working at the American Red Cross can be tough sometimes, but it is also really rewarding,” Merritt says. “Seeing your patients getting better motivates you — and I am going to keep doing it. … Within our lifetime, we are either going to need blood ourselves or someone we know is going to need it.”

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