You may remember donating blood in high school and college. A blood banking organization would come in, set up chairs, put out piles of granola bars and juice, and wait for volunteer blood donors. Once you’re out of school without those consistent blood drives, you may not think about blood donation as often.
We’re fortunate in Pittsburgh to have access to some of the best hospitals and healthcare in the region. But the number of blood donors in the Pittsburgh area is on the decline. Two Pittsburgh sisters are on a mission to organize blood donations and raise awareness of the public health crisis Western PA is facing.
Pittsburgh Sisters Have Donated Blood Since High School
Taylor and Jennifer Urban, Pittsburgh locals, have been donating blood together since they were in high school. Taylor started donating at her high school’s blood drives when she was 16. Her first blood donation went well, and Taylor became a regular blood donor.
At the time, Jennifer wanted to follow in her sister’s footsteps, but she wasn’t old enough to donate. The minimum age is 16. Instead, she became a blood donation ambassador and started organizing blood drives at South Allegheny High School until she was old enough to donate herself.
“After high school, we started going to community blood drives together,” Jennifer said. “Some people are freaked out by the thought of donating blood or not knowing how donation works. Having someone to go with makes it easier, less intimidating.”
“It’s fun donating together,” added Taylor. “If you’re scared or worried about donating blood, do it with someone.”
The Urban sisters can often be found at the Pittsburgh Penguins Blood Drives hosted by Vitalant, formerly Central Blood Bank, where “we have a great time,” noted Jennifer. They’ve met the Pens mascot IceBurgh, tried on Stanley Cup rings, toured Suite 66 and gotten free Pens gear at the drives. While not the main reason they donate, the perks are an added bonus, the sisters said.
Blood Donations in Our Region Have Dropped
Taylor and Jennifer’s commitment to donating blood is, unfortunately, not the norm. In the Pittsburgh region, the number of blood donors has dropped by 50 percent in the past 10 years, and most people in their 20s and 30s don’t donate blood regularly, according to Vitalant.
With 600 donations needed every day to help patients in our area, it’s important that people of all ages who can donate do, or there won’t be enough blood available.
Western Pennsylvania Faces Critical Blood Donation Shortages
Vitalant, previously known as Central Blood Bank, is the primary blood provider for the hospitals in the Allegheny Health Network and UPMC Health System. Currently, blood donors are only giving half of the blood needed for Pittsburgh hospitals.
That means we’re relying on blood from other cities to help people who have experienced serious accidents or injuries, newborn babies, and patients being treated for cancer who need platelets.
If blood donations aren’t made, elective surgeries and treatments may have to be postponed or even canceled. Blood donation shortages are causing a public health crisis in Western PA.
Why Taylor & Jennifer Are Passionate About Donating
Asked why they continue to donate blood, both Taylor and Jennifer responded simultaneously “why not?”
“You’re doing a great thing. It’s so simple. And it’s something everyone can do,” said Jennifer, adding that technology makes it easy to schedule online or using the Vitalant app.
“If you want to make a difference – there it is,” added Taylor. “It’s not hard, it doesn’t cost any money, and it’s something to help other people. Put yourself in others’ shoes. Think of your own family; you wouldn’t want to lose someone because there wasn’t enough blood available. Make time — make a difference.”
Consider This Your Invitation to Donate Blood
As we head into a new year, consider this your personal invitation to donate blood. The number one reason why people do not donate blood is because they haven’t been asked. We’re asking you now.