Big donors get big thank-you

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Big donors get big thank-youIt is literally the gift of life — something that can’t be manufactured or mined, only freely given by one individual to save the life of another. And the needs of the public are supplied by about 3 percent of the population who diligently make these donations.

Except in Ridgecrest, which brings out donors in numbers that double the national average — proving that good things can come in small packages.

We are talking, of course, about blood. And Houchin Community Blood Bank decided to honor local residents for their commitment to helping supply it to Kern County with a thank-you to the regular donors and presentation of an inaugural award in recognition of the behind-the-scenes efforts that go into rallying donations.

“I am so glad to be here tonight to thank you properly for your valuable contributions,” said Greg Gallion, Houchin CEO. “I am sorry this is the first time we’ve done this, but I can promise you it won’t be the last.”

The scores of donors and volunteers who attended had the opportunity to see the faces of the high-volume donors, the network of individuals who help ensure that supply continues to flow, and perhaps most importantly, the reason donations are collected in the first place.

“I think there are things in life that we just take for granted will always be there because they always have been. But sometimes it takes a life-changing event to give us a glimpse into the mechanics of that system,” said Christina Scrivner, who coordinates Houchin’s blood drives.

She introduced Leslie Layfield, whose son Todd suffered grave injuries in 2012, requiring intensive surgeries and transfusions amounting to 37 units of blood.

Leslie spoke of how when their family learned of that life-saving gift, they pledged to repay. Since then Layfield family and friends — including the now-recovered Todd — have held two blood drives collecting 83 units in the last year and plan to continue to do so each year.

Todd’s case was a rare one, as the severity of his injuries made a continuous transfusion necessary until the cause of his internal bleeding could be fixed.

Gallion explained that technology allows the blood bank to separate donations into three components — red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets — so that patients can often get what they need from only a part of one unit of blood. That means that the Layfield contributions potentially touch 249 patient lives.

Since 2009 Ridgecrest residents have donated a combined 8,146 units, potentially touching 24,438 lives.

While those donations are spread out across hundreds of regular donors, Houchin also honored a few stand-outs for their decades of commitment to ensuring that the county has a plentiful supply.

One of those was Gregory Morrow, who just recently reached 18 gallons. (For those without a calculator handy, that translates to a personal contribution of 144 units, potentially touching 432 patients.)

Morrow said he was motivated by wanting to be sure that patients with his relatively rare blood type had a match.

Gallion said that making sure the blood bank had the right supply was a delicate balance. Because of the high level of compatibility of certain blood types — including O-positive, O-negative and A-negative — Houchin typically puts out a call to those types when reserves begin to run low.

In addition to the staff members who coordinate these efforts, Houchin partners with chairs who coordinate the local logistics for each drive.

Scrivner recounted one call in particular from a woman expressing interest in hosting a drive. “When I hung up the phone, I thought I’d probably never hear from her again. There is so much that goes into this — it’s a large commitment to guarantee donors and logistics and generally takes a large organization to get behind. When I told this woman everything we would need, I thought I had left her pretty overwhelmed.”

Not so. That woman called Scrivner back after she made all of those behind-the-scenes requirements happen.

That woman was Sarah Hoekman, a teacher at Immanuel Christian School. Hoekman said she was motivated by a student who expressed an interest in hosting such an event. That little school, with its graduating class of 14, has collected 359 units since 2011.

“There is just nothing like this anywhere else in the county. By numbers alone they beat most schools, but if you look at it per capita they are literally in a league of their own. It’s just incredible,” said Scrivner.

Although this success would not happen without the diligent efforts of students to recruit their family and friends, Scrivner said that Hoekman goes above and beyond in her support.

“She does everything from help with recruitment to cooking spaghetti for all the students to make sure their iron is high enough to qualify to donate.”

Houchin recognized Hoekman’s contributions by making her the inaugural winner of the Chairperson of the Year Award — which from this year forward will recognize an outstanding drive chair from Kern County.

“Sarah and the rest of the Immanual family should be extremely proud of what they have accomplished. They have helped touch more than 1,000 patient lives with their gift and have set the benchmark for all of our other donors,” said Scrivner.

“And I think it’s no surprise to find people this generous and dedicated in Ridgecrest. Those are defining characteristics of this community.”

Story First Published: 2013-11-20