VICKSBURG, Miss.— Before becoming a nurse in Health Services at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), Ruth Osburn spent 30 years working in hospital intensive care units. There, she saw firsthand how important blood transfusions can be to patients, and in her current role at ERDC, she works to meet that need.
With four major blood drives hosted on the Vicksburg station each year, ERDC has become a major player in supporting Mississippi Blood Services.
“When you need blood, you need blood,” Osburn said. “There’s no substitute. It’s just that important. Life is in the blood.”
Blood drives at ERDC date back to 1979, the year Mississippi Blood Services was first officially founded. Since then, the number of units donated has continued to climb. Fifteen years ago, 269 units were donated; in 2020, ERDC contributed 513 units.
“Our mission is to provide a safe and adequate blood supply to the hospitals we supply. We, in turn, rely on the citizens of our state to supply this life-saving resource,” said Tammy Bouchillon, senior marketing representative for Mississippi Blood Services. “The size and consistency of the blood drives at ERDC have grown to become a most valuable resource in allowing us to meet our mission goals.”
Dr. Rob Wallace, Information Technology Laboratory technical director, understands the crucial need for blood donations all too well. In 2014, his teenage daughter, Afton, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. In the months that followed her diagnosis, Afton received 55 units of blood through transfusions.
“That seems like a remarkable number, but that’s typical for kids with cancer,” Wallace explained about his daughter’s blood transfusions. “In an effort to kill the cancer, the bone marrow is destroyed; so they can’t produce blood and go anemic.”
After Afton’s diagnosis, Wallace was overwhelmed at the number of people who came out to donate blood at ERDC drives in her honor.
“I wept tears of gratitude, literally, because of the people at ERDC who came to our aid when Afton was sick,” Wallace said. “You never know when something is going to happen. One minute everything can be fine, and one minute you’re staring at a life and death situation when you need blood.”
A year after her diagnosis and just days after her high-school graduation, Afton died at the age of 18.
“Though we wish there was a better outcome in our situation, we’re eternally grateful to all the people who helped us in our time of need,” Wallace said. “We invite and encourage everybody to donate when possible.”
An employee who donates at all four blood drives during the year is called an “angel donor,” and the number of those people has also grown over the years. In 2007, when Osburn joined the ERDC team, approximately 20 people qualified to be angel donors. This year, that number is closer to 70 people.
“A large majority of the ERDC blood donors give blood 3-4 times per year, which is well ahead of the national average for donor frequency,” Bouchillon said. We have a very health donor base here, which means we rarely turn away donors who do not meet our physical guidelines.”
“This is a passion for me because I did unit work for so many years,” Osburn said. “It’s fantastic to see so many people supporting it year after year.”
While the drives for 2020 have ended, Osburn already has next year’s events scheduled on the calendar: Feb. 2-3, June 1-2, Aug. 3-4 and Oct. 5-6.