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It's in the blood

Sally White remembers the time her father drove a long distance from his home in upper New York state to donate blood on the day before his 65th birthday — because people 65 and older were restricted from donating, and he was eager to give his last pint.

"It was always a big deal in our family," said White, 72, a receptionist at Rogue Valley Manor.

Everyone in her family donated blood. "Ever since I was 17 I gave blood every time I could."

Nowadays, the American Red Cross accepts blood donations from anyone 17 or older in good health who weighs at least 110 pounds and has a valid picture identification. Individuals at least 16 years old can give blood with their parent's consent.

White was instrumental in starting the blood donation clinic in the Rogue Valley Manor in 1995 and as a staff member has been donating blood regularly ever since.

The Red Cross holds a clinic for one day every two months at the manor.

"It's something everybody should do," White said. "If you can save a life, why not?"

James Carr, Red Cross collections operations supervisor, said many manor residents have been donating blood for years.

"They started back in the '30s and '40s and have been donating blood throughout their life," he said. Carr said the oldest donor he's seen was in his 90s.

JoAnn Weber, 69, a receptionist at the Skyline Plaza who's been donating blood for about 11 years, said she does so "because it helps other people and I have O-negative blood, which is useful."

O-negative, known as the "universal donor," can be transfused into individuals of any blood type, which is especially useful during emergency situations when no time exists to determine blood type. Only about 7 percent of the population in the U.S. is O-negative.

Some people fear giving blood because of rare reactions such as lightheadedness, nausea, weakness or sweating. Nurse Marie Fiebelkorn, part of the Rogue Manor blood-drawing staff, said she finds such reactions mostly in high-school students rather than in elderly donors. She said pampering oneself a few days before donating blood can make a difference. "Eating and drinking well can hinder such reactions." Most of the time, she said, people feel fine.

Other reasons people shun donating blood involve health issues prompting deferrals, or situations causing postponements. Such deferrals include having low blood iron levels, having traveled to an area with malaria within one year, having had heart surgery within six months, taking blood thinners or having had cancer within one year.

See www.redcrossblood.org for a complete list of deferrals and eligibility criteria. Many deferrals are temporary and people can donate blood after a certain amount of time. Even diabetics and people with high blood pressure can donate blood.

Although 38 percent of people in Jackson County are eligible to donate blood, only 2 percent do so, said Christina Dunlap, local representative for the Red Cross. For more information or to schedule an appointment to donate blood, call the local American Red Cross office at 1-800-GIVE-LIFE.

"Everybody should donate blood when they can," White said.

Reach reporting intern Vera Westbrook at intern1@mailtribune.com.

Dee Pickett, left, and Sally White donate blood at Rogue Valley Manor Wednesday. Medical assistants Hannah Saylor, left, and Tera Hayes help with the process. The Red Cross no longer restricts people older than 65 from donating blood. - Jim Craven