The need for blood donations remains constant as nonprofit organizations like Vitalant face many hurdles from before and during the pandemic. While a large percentage of the population is eligible to donate, only a small fraction give blood as many remain afraid to go through the process.
"It saves lives. I mean people that need blood, need it now and it's easy for me to do so I do it," said Dennis Walther, a longtime donor at Vitalant. "The need is there and when the need is there, it's urgent."
Walther started donating blood 30 years ago, coming in every two weeks. He can no longer give platelets but still gives plasma and comes in once a month. On a recent visit to the donation center, he marked his 300th time giving blood.
"They need it today so that's why I give, they need it today," he told KPIX and explained he doesn't have any plans to stop donating blood. "I've asked that question several times and they say as long as I'm healthy, I can keep coming."
Vitalant says they aim to have a four-day supply on their shelves but this summer it dipped well below that. Part of the challenge is a 25 percent drop in business-related blood drives and schools not bringing back their donation events since the pandemic. The active donor base also dropped before COVID and remains down this year.
"I've been very blessed in life, and I need to give back, this is one way to do it," Walther explained. The needle never bothers him and the process lets him catch up on TV shows while he sits in the chair.
Vitalant communication manager Kevin Adler says that roughly 50% of the population can give blood but only three percent of those who are eligible actually donate. He hopes people take the time to check if they're eligible and remember it's free to them and is about a one-hour commitment.
"The need is constant, you know, as fast as people are donating, it's going out to hospitals, there's always someone in need of blood," Adler told KPIX. "The most rewarding thing is knowing that you're doing something amazing and helping someone who truly needs it."
The fear of donating has kept many from giving blood but the organization hopes Walther's example motivates more people to take the next step. Adler estimates that over the years Walther has impacted thousands of lives by saving them and touching their loved ones at the same time.
"I've been very blessed in life, and I need to give back, this is one way to do it," Walther said.
Learn more at vitalant.org
for more features.