Las Vegas Sun

July 27, 2017

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About 200 people donate blood, get buffet tickets in return

Sun coverage

Rene Mayas takes a seat at the donor bed, making friendly banter with the phlebotomist as he swabs anti-bacterial solution around a thick vein in her right arm.

Mayas, a recurring blood donor, laughs recalling some of the questions asked during her screening interview: Had she been paid for sex or slept with anyone who has?

The phlebotomist wraps a tourniquet around Mayas’ right arm and gives her a heart-shaped squeeze ball to hold. As he tucks a needle under her skin, Mayas looks away, her eyelids shut and teeth clenched.

But just a few seconds later, Mayas springs back to life, talking about her ex-husband and plans for the future. In her left hand, she holds up a thick, paperback book. Reading helps time pass faster, she says, and the process typically is over by the fourth page.

An estimated 200 people marked the end of their Labor Day weekend at the United Blood Services event at the Eastside Cannery, 5255 Boulder Highway.

As Mayas’ blood continues in a steady flow along the tubing, the phlebotomist uses multiple vials to collect it. A Haemonetics machine separates Mayas’ red blood cells and returns the plasma back into her body, adding 500 cubic centimeters of saline along with it to maintain her blood volume.

A few minutes later, the machine beeps, and the phlebotomist carefully pulls out the needle. He instructs Mayas to press down on the wound and raise her arm.

“So far, I’m OK,” Mayas said, adding that the most difficult part of the process is standing afterward. The phlebotomist wraps her right arm with a bright pink compression bandage.

Donating blood saves lives, makes you feel good in the process and offers great incentives, said Paul Milakeve, donor recruitment manager for United Blood Services.

Donors at Monday's event received two free tickets to the Cannery Row Buffet at the casino. And as part of United Blood Services' Be a Hero program, donors can exchange points for movie tickets, gift cards and T-shirts.

The process begins with the donor completing a mini-physical that measures their blood pressure, cholesterol and iron levels, Milakeve said. They’re also placed in a screening interview, where they are asked about their medical conditions and high-risk behaviors for HIV and whether they have been in a high-risk region for malaria in the past year.

Afterward, a phlebotomist extracts one pint of blood, which can take several minutes. The donor then is asked to sit at a table for 15 to 20 minutes and enjoy the snacks and refreshments.

The most obvious misconception people have about blood donation is that it hurts, Milakeve said.

“What we find is that once they’re in the process, they realize it’s not very harmful,” he said.

However, he said that some donors come out of the process lightheaded and dizzy.

“Some deal better with needles than others,” Milakeve said. “Some can faint just thinking about it.”

He said that some donors have even vomited before or after the process.

Another misconception people have is that blood donation is similar to a blood test and thus come in having fasted for hours, Milakeve said. He advises donors to eat a hearty meal and drink lots of water beforehand.

Labor Day is a tough time for blood banks, he said, because high schools have not yet held their drives and many donors are on vacation.

After giving blood, Gary Olsen sits at a table, stacking two empty cans of grape juice. A light blue bandage is wrapped around his arm.

After Sunday’s donation, Olsen has given exactly 18 gallons during his lifetime. His O-positive blood type, which can be universally received, makes him even more valuable to blood banks.

Olsen started donating blood when he lived in Iowa because the local services offered free blood for the donor’s relatives. But now, everyone sells the blood, he said.

Depending on the phlebotomist, the experience can be relatively pain-free or leave a bruise on his arm, Olsen said.

Olsen donates blood to help others and once donated to a friend who got into a farm accident. It also allows him to find out his blood pressure for free, he said with a laugh.

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