When the average person hears “Armed Services Blood Program,” they likely think first about the men and women serving the U.S. military, both at home and overseas.
While more than 1.5 million units of blood have been used to treat battlefield illnesses and injuries since its inception, the ASBP also provides blood to military medical treatment facilities around the globe for procedures for dependents, including children.
For Laura Kelly, from San Antonio, Texas, the combination of having the right type of blood and knowing exactly what type of people her blood is going to is what has kept her donating for the last 10 years.
“After my first donation, they discovered my blood was not only O-negative, but also CMV (cytomegalovirus)-negative, which is very rare,” Kelly said. “It was explained to me that my specific combination was needed for babies and others with suppressed immunity.”
She is now on call any time there is an emergency case where her blood is needed at Brooke Army Medical Center on Fort Sam Houston.
“When someone calls you and says there is a sick baby that needs your help, how can you say no?” Kelly asked. “I feel like donation is a small thing I can do that makes a big impact.”
CMV is a flu-like virus that most people are exposed to at some point in their lives, usually causing mild flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all. However, CMV can be potentially serious for babies and people with weakened immune systems. Once a person has been exposed to the virus, their body will produce antibodies to fight the infection. A person is only CMV-negative if they’ve never been exposed to it, a group that includes as few as 15% of adults.
CMV is generally harmless to healthy children and adults but can be fatal to newborns. Babies needing transfusions as part of their medical care should only receive CMV negative blood from donors who have not been exposed to CMV.
Kelly’s husband, who developed chronic myeloid leukemia two years ago, also now happens to be part of an immunosuppressed group that needs CMV-negative blood.
Kelly said that, despite the apprehension that may have surrounded it since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has donated four times over the past year.
C. Tracy Parmer, a donor recruiter for the ASBP at BAMC and the person who convinced Kelly to donate, said that she hopes that the apprehension will lessen as the situation with COVID-19 continues to improve, especially given the shortage it has caused.
“We push every day to make sure we have what we need, but we’ve had our shortages. We also have the added restriction of not being able to collect off base,” said Parmer, who has been recruiting for almost 17 years. “Recruiting and education is key.”
Kelly said that she hopes that people who can donate through the ASBP remember that their donation has the potential to help more than just active-duty personnel.
“When people think of helping the military, they think about the active-duty airmen, sailors, soldiers, or Marines. They don’t consider the spouses and children of military members in more than abstract terms, and that military children get sick, too,” Kelly said. “Bringing this into focus raises awareness of the need where otherwise people might not even know it’s an issue.”
Parmer agreed, with an added sense of urgency.
“We are fighting an uphill battle to keep blood on the shelves right now,” Parmer said. “We need to continue to save the lives of our most precious gifts by donating blood.”
Blood and blood products are used for MTF patients of all ages for a variety of reasons. Whether blood is needed to treat cancer patients, surgical patients, or battlefield injuries, MTFs rely on blood donors every day. The only way to know your donation will stay within the military community is to donate through the ASBP.
“We need every unit, squadron, family member, retiree, and anyone with base access to help us collect all the blood products we need,” said Parmer.
Added Kelly: “If you are able bodied and qualified, please donate. The need is great, and there is a certain satisfaction knowing your act of kindness could make a huge difference.”
To learn more about donating to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces, visit the ASBP webpage at https://www.militaryblood.dod.mil/.