Vital Contribution: NLM Donors Help NIH Blood Bank

January is National Blood Donor Month. With that in mind, NLM in Focus is recognizing the people at the National Library of Medicine, and people everywhere, who make a difference by donating.

National Library of Medicine staffers are generous blood donors. NLM held two blood drives in 2011, one in May and one in December, to support the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Blood Bank. The blood helps patients who come from all over the world to receive treatment at the NIH Clinical Center, the nation’s research hospital.

Joyce Backus makes her 100th blood donationJoyce Backus, NLM deputy associate director for Library Operations, is such a regular donor that in September 2011 she made her 100th donation. With that, she was inducted into the NIH Blood Bank Hall of Fame.

“I feel so fortunate to be healthy enough to be able to donate on a regular basis,” says Backus, who at this writing is up to 101 donations.  “There are so many people who can’t donate for a wide variety of reasons that I feel like I should make it a point to do so.”

Backus says she was inspired by the late Howard Drew, an NLM reference librarian who was a record-setting donor. He was the first person to donate 100 times to the NIH Blood Bank and he was the 2003 Guinness world record holder for most blood donated—213 units or about 28 gallons. Robert Mehnert, NLM’s former director of the Office of Communications and Public Liaison, also has a remarkable number of 189 donations.

During the weeks of the two NLM blood drives in 2011, nearly 70 NLM staffers donated, many of them for the first time. Al Decot of the Clinical Center’s Department of Transfusion Medicine, which runs the NIH Blood Bank, says NLM is the first NIH institute or center to sponsor two blood drives in one year. He says that’s a vital contribution considering there is no substitute for human blood and one pint of blood can help up to three people.

“The Department of Transfusion Medicine has a sincere appreciation for the employees of NLM and for (NLM Director) Dr. Lindberg’s support for the blood drives,” says Decot. “We need 30 units of blood a day, or 600 units a month, to meet the needs of the patients.”

Decot says the best of all worlds is to have NIH employees become regular blood and platelet donors for the blood bank. That, he explains, provides a needed balance to patient relatives, students and fellows who donate but are only at NIH temporarily.

With Joyce Backus as her inspiration, Elisabeth Unger, a Technical Information Specialist at NLM, made her first donation to the NIH Blood Bank during the December drive. “I’ll give again. It’s convenient and you don’t have to take leave to do it,” she says. “It’s a really easy way to make a difference and maybe save someone’s life.”

To donate blood, you must be healthy; at least 17 years of age; and weigh at least 110 pounds.  The NIH Blood Bank Web site contains more information about its donation procedures, and there is “Blood Transfusion and Donation” health topic page on MedlinePlus.

By NLM in Focus editor Shana Potash

Photo Caption: Joyce Backus is congratulated by NIH Blood Bank team members as she makes her 100th donation. From left to right: Gregory Beaulieu, MD, Halanzo Wilkins, Joyce Backus, Jacqueline Brown. Photo by Bill Branson.