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Red Cross Concludes Largest Blood Drive

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WASHINGTON, Nov 21, 2003 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- The American Red Cross celebrated the successful conclusion of the biggest blood drive in the agency's history, the Save-A-Life Tour 2003, at its national headquarters.

During the six-month campaign from May 20-Nov. 20, two convoys consisting of a mobile museum, education van, equipment van and passenger bus, traveled across the country, visited more than 300 communities and collected 3.1 million units of blood, surpassing its goal of 3 million units, ARC President and Chief Executive Officer Marsha Evans said Thursday.

Washington's Deputy Mayor of Operations Herbert Tillery, who attended the ceremony, praised the agency's efforts as "human compassion at its greatest form."

Evans underlined the constant need for donated blood. "Whether they're man-made or natural, there's a disaster every 8 minutes," Evans said. She also pointed out how the 3.1 million units collected are enough to save as many as 9 million lives.

"We encourage all eligible Americans to roll up their sleeves and donate blood regularly," Evans said, adding that she planned to donate blood herself that day.

About 5 percent of eligible donors in the United States give blood, according to the ARC.

To reach the most people, the campaign attended public events such as state fairs, sports events and even Elvis Presley's birthday celebration in Memphis, as well as soliciting donors on college and university campuses.

Several youthful recipients of blood donations -- and the relatives of recipients -- spoke at Thursday's end-of-campaign celebration.

"My name is Clare and I would like to thank all blood donors for saving my mommy," said 3-year-old Clare Larsen, a blond tot clutching a small brown stuffed dog. Others who spoke who had received blood donations were 11-year-old Malorie Letcavage, who needed blood after a severe episode of food poisoning; 17-year-old Victor Griffin, who has sickle cell disease; and 20-year-old Lindsey Meglio, who developed Hodgkin's disease.

Blood donations are necessary in spite of the advances in medical technology. "We haven't figured out how to make fake blood," said Dr. Cristina Beato, acting assistant secretary for health and human services.

The tour achieved increased donations from young people and minorities, with an 8-percent increase from 17- to 24-year-olds, and two to three times more donations from Asians and Hispanics, Evans said.

A survey on blood donation attitudes indicated some likely reasons why few people donate. Though donated blood is put through 12 different tests and donors with ineligible blood are entered into a nationwide registry, nearly 47 million out of 50 million people surveyed believed that they could contract an infectious disease from giving blood. About 31 million respondents did not want to donate but weren't really sure why, and 30 million thought a substitute for real blood existed. Respondents were allowed to give more than one reason.

Other campaign highlights included the biggest high school blood drive at Lakewood High School in Long Beach, Calif., where students 17 and older gave more than 580 units, and a blood drive at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where students donated more than 2,000 units, according to Evans.

The ceremony concluded with the unveiling of a wall covered with more than 2,000 pledges from young people, promising when they are eligible to donate blood, help with blood drives or recruit other donors. About 70 percent of them were from high schools, Radha Muthiah, the agency's vice president of donor strategy, told United Press International.

The bright red Mobile Museum, designed to encourage and educate the public on blood donation, was part of each convoy. "Most people don't know what to expect" from the donation process, Muthiah explained. Visitors surrender some contact information in exchange for a blood-donor card and access to the museum.

The museum's high-tech interactive exhibits include video testimonies from blood and blood-product recipients, a video showing what to expect during blood donation, a place where donors can record their testimonies, and facts about blood and how it is used.

There is also a blood quiz that reveals important facts about blood, including how people with extremely rare blood types require blood from like-type donors.

Muthiah called the campaign the "foundation" for other efforts to raise public awareness and participation.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International.

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