Wausau Pilot & Review

Editor’s note: This sponsored weekly feature shares the stories of locally-owned and operated businesses and organizations in the Wausau area, highlighting the products and services they offer and the ways they contribute to the metro area’s unique flavor. Learn how to feature your business by emailing [email protected].

This week’s featured Wausau business is the Blood Center of Northcentral Wisconsin, an organization with a clear mission: to offer a safe, reliable, and voluntary supply of blood and blood components to alleviate suffering and save human lives. Located at 211 Forest St. in downtown Wausau, the team at the Blood Center of Northcentral Wisconsin has been serving our local community as a non-profit blood supplier since 1952, currently providing blood products to hospitals in Marathon, Langlade, Taylor, Portage, Wood, Columbia, Lincoln, Oneida and Vilas Counties. To better serve the community and save more lives, BCNW and The Community Blood Center (CBC) joined forces earlier this year, creating Midwest Blood Centers, an affiliation combining both blood centers under a new, not-for-profit organizational structure. This affiliation will help BCNW continue its mission by protecting the health and well-being of its community, ensuring every patient and family in need has prompt access to blood and blood components. 

Emily Jolin, President and CEO of the organization, said she wishes more people knew how easy it is to donate blood and how much it is truly needed.

“I wish people knew how simple the process really is,” Jolin said. “It is the blood that is already available on the shelf that helps in an emergent situation. Blood is perishable and has a limited shelf life. The supply must be continuously replenished. It is also important to note that blood transfused directly to patients must be collected from volunteer donors.”

Here, she talks about the donation process, the critical need for blood now, who can and cannot donate – and how to get started. If you haven’t donated blood lately, or have never considered it, now is the perfect time. Walk-ins are accepted, or make an appointment today at www.bcnwi.org.

Take me through the process. When someone comes in to donate blood, what do they experience, from start to finish?  

When you present to donate blood, you will first be registered in our system and asked to fill out a health history questionnaire.  Next, a staff member will go through your health history with you and perform a mini-physical (checking your pulse, temperature, blood pressure, and finger-stick to determine hemoglobin level). After this screening, you will head to the collection area where the unit of blood will be drawn–the actual blood collection typically takes about 10 minutes. After donation, you will move to our canteen area to enjoy a beverage and snack, completing the process in about 45-60 minutes.

In the summer, we often hear about critical blood shortages. Why does that happen? 

Summer is a perfect storm for blood shortages. There are typically less donors presenting to give, and potential increased blood product usage. Donors get busy with summer schedules, holidays, traveling, and we lose our school blood drives that are hosted throughout the year. Higher product demands can also result from increased traumas during summer months.

How critical is the supply level right now?  

We are very low right now, especially our Type O blood supply–but all blood types are welcome!

What are the different types of blood donations – and what do each of them entail?

Currently at BCNW, we focus on whole blood & platelet collections. Whole blood entails giving one unit (approximately 1 pint) of blood. This product can be processed into two blood components–red blood cells and plasma–so up to two patients can benefit from each donation. Platelets are collected by automated method, and the process takes approximately two hours.  Each procedure results in 1- 3 units of platelet concentrate, helping up to three patients. We collect whole blood at our donor center and blood drives. Platelets are currently only collected at our donor center. 

What are the qualifications for giving blood? Who can donate? 

To be eligible to donate, donors must be at least 17-years-old, or 16 with parental consent, weigh at least 110 lbs., and be generally in good health. As part of the donation process, donors go through screening and a mini physical to confirm they are healthy to donate. There is no upper age limit. Whole blood can be donated every 8 weeks.  

What are some things that would disqualify you? For example, is there a waiting period after having a tattoo or piercing? 

The most common reason for deferral is low hemoglobin, so we encourage donors to fill up on healthy and iron-rich foods prior to their donation (and hydrate, too!). There are a handful of health conditions, medications, recent travel locations, and other risk factors that may result in deferral, but the best way to find out if you are eligible to donate is to give us a call at 715-842-0761. We are happy to answer any eligibility questions. Most common prescription medications, such as blood pressure or cholesterol medications, are acceptable. Tattoos and piercings performed at a state-regulated facility are acceptable as soon as they are healed.

Do you only participate in blood drives, or can someone just make an appointment to donate at any time? 

We have blood drives in many Central Wisconsin communities in addition to our fixed site in downtown Wausau that takes donors every Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  We take walk-ins or you can make an appointment at our Wausau location by visiting wow.bcnwi.org.  We are open until 6:30 p.m. at our fixed site on the second Tuesday of every month. Many of our blood drives offer evening hours, as well.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

I would say the most challenging part of our job is simply keeping up the supply. More specifically, making sure we are retaining current donors and attracting new ones. This has become more of a struggle year-over-year. Nationally, the statistics show that the donor population as a whole is aging.  From 2017 to 2019, there was a 15.1% increase in donations from individuals over 65 and a 15.1% decrease from individuals 19-24 years old. Given this trend, the blood supply will not be sustainable in the future if things continue as they are.

What about the most satisfying thing?

The most satisfying thing is witnessing donors altruistically give this precious gift so that it is available for their friends, families and neighbors. They are literally saving lives and we are honored to play a part in it.

Connect with Blood Center of Northcentral Wisconsin

  • Visit in person: 211 Forest St., Wausau
  • By phone: 715-842-0761
  • Online at www.bcnwi.org
  • On Facebook HERE