Newton, who works out of the West New York Post Office at 5415 Bergenline Ave., helped coordinate a blood drive with The Blood Center of New Jersey.
According to Newton, the idea came to him, as most ideas do, out of past experience. Said Newton, "I've been giving blood for 15 years or more. We did a blood drive right after Sept. 11, so I figured we should do it this year too." Added Newton, "It's about the community. It's a good thing."
Newton said the town of West New York was very cooperative. Said Newton, "The Parking Authority came and bagged the meters and let us park the bus here," he said. "Here" was right in front of the Post Office, arguably one of the most pedestrian-laden locations in West New York.
Monday afternoon, there was a decent number of people queued to donate blood. Most were postal employees, but every few minutes, the door would open and someone would ask if they could donate. At one point, the somewhat harried nurses had to turn people away, asking them to return in a few minutes. The interior of the Blood Center bus is spacious, but can only handle so many people at once.
One of the postal employees waiting to donate blood was Postal Clerk Maryann Thomas. Said Thomas, "Yeah, Rob Newton started this drive." As for her own reasons for donating, Thomas said, "Anything I could help anybody with, I'll do. With all that's going on, I figured it's the least I could do."
Safer through the years
The experience of giving blood is one clouded in a bit of mystery and mostly misinformation. Immediately after the rise of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s, the testing of donated blood for the new disease was haphazard at best. The result was that a great number of people became infected with the deadly virus simply from getting a blood transfusion while in the hospital.
However, as the years have gone by and the medical establishment has become much more aware of the disease and its implications, the testing guidelines for donated blood have resulted in an almost foolproof system.
According to The Blood Center of New Jersey spokesperson Judy Daniels, there is quite a line of defense in place that assures that the blood that is donated to the various blood banks in the area is safe and clear of any diseases. Said Daniels, "We're doing more and more screening. The more diseases that pop up, the more test that have to be done." According to Daniels', "We are actually turning people away because we are asking so many questions." At the time of donating, the prospective donor is asked a plethora of questions. A medical history is taken, and depending on the answers, the person may or may not be permitted to donate.
According to a pamphlet available at the donor site, donors must: be at least 18 years of age, weigh at least 110 pounds and be in general good health, wait 24 hours after any dental work, wait 12 months after having ear/body piercing if not performed using sterile needles, wait to donate if the donor has a sore throat or fever. Also, any donor who has traveled outside of the United States in the last 12 months must call the blood center for "eligibility guidelines."
According to Daniels, there are certain places outside of the continental United States that would automatically deny one the ability to donate. Said Daniels, "If you go to Cancun, Mexico, you're fine. You can donate. However, if you've gone down the coast and visited the ruins - nope. You're out of there."
Evidently, the malaria-carrying mosquitoes are the concern there.
In addition to a general medical history, donors are also asked confidentially about any risk factors of HIV/AIDS that might be present.
According to the Blood Center's information packet, "You must not donate if you are at risk of getting and spreading the AIDS virus.
How blood is tested
You will be asked to carefully review a list of risk factors with a health professional when you come to donate. Do not give blood to find out what your AIDS test results would be. For AIDS testing, please contact the State Board of Health or your physician."
Once blood is taken (about one pint's worth) from the donor, it begins a circuitous journey. The blood is sent immediately to the Blood Center of New Jersey's lab in East Orange where it is subjected to a battery of 12 tests, including tests for Hepatitis A, B and C, HIV, Syphilis, CJD (the human variant of Mad Cow Disease) and others. The blood is also given an ABO test, which shows what type the blood is.
Once the blood is deemed safe, it is divided into its three main components: red cells, plasma and platelets. All three of these components can be used on their own, depending on the needs of a patient or whole blood can be used.
The blood and its components are then stored until called for by hospitals.
Donated blood is stored for the use of anyone who may need it, but the Blood Center of New Jersey has an "autologous donation" program which is, according to an informational pamphlet, "a process where you can give blood for yourself to be used during a scheduled surgical procedure." So, basically, if a person goes in for a nose job or a knee surgery, their own blood will be there waiting, if needed. However, this program would not work in any given emergency situation where time is of the ultimate essence. Which is why donating is so important.
Said Blood Center spokesperson Judy Daniels, "I can only speak for our center, but in order to bring us up to "full" capacity, we would have to have 170 people donating per day. Obviously that's not going to happen." The result is that all of the blood banks in this area (The New York Blood Center, the Bergen County Blood Center, Mercer County and the Philadelphia Blood Center which covers southern New Jersey) wind up having to "source" blood from other parts of the country. Said Daniels, "The Midwest is a good supporter of the Northeast."
Daniels also conceded that there are many factors involved in why certain areas have a good supply of blood while others constantly scramble for donations. Said Daniels, "It's in urban areas that you'll find shortages. There are many immigrants who may have reasons for not donating: religious, cultural. Also, many of the countries they come from preclude them from donating. It's a real catch-22."
However, by the same token, there are certain blood types that are analogous to certain races, so people coming here from other countries should try to donate. Their own life may depend on it one day.
According to blood drive coordinator Rob Newton, the turnout last week was lighter than expected, but it was "still worth doing." Newton said, "About 14 people showed up, 10 from the post office and a few from the street. It was good overall."
The need for blood is great, and the resources thin. Anyone who would like to donate blood, start a blood drive or find out information on blood donation can go to www.bloodnj.org.