super donors to the rescue

Michelle Regan
October 05, 2022

Blood Bank of Hawaii aims to collect 200 donations per day. But what makes a donor “super?”

Super donors have given whole blood, plasma, or platelets hundreds of times over the years.

Some, like John Flanigan who’s donated 436 times, have personal motivation.

“I benefited from a blood transfusion when I was quite young; I was 8 years old,” says Flanigan. “I got hit by a car and my uncle donated two pints to me. That was back in 1941. The donation took place in real time where he was on a table right next to me. That made me continually conscious of the fact that I had survived because of a blood transfer.”

Others, like Kent Goya who’s donated 548 times, are motivated by altruism. “It’s just the right thing to do,” he says. “And I’m able to make the time to do it.”

Kyle Taoka, who’s donated 436 times, does it for his neighbors in need. “I like helping, especially people who need platelets. It helps people with cancer treatment,” he says.

They’re important contributions because BBH supplies all the blood for Hawai'i’s 18 hospitals. Red cells, which are used for trauma response, organ transplants, and heart surgeries, have a shelf life of just over a month once they're packaged and delivered. Platelets, which are used for cardiac surgeries, cancer treatment, and autoimmune conditions, last only a week.

“That’s one of the reasons I work here; this community is awesome,” says Todd Lewis, BBH chief operating officer. “They rise to the challenge. They’re not incentivized by a T-shirt, movie tickets, or a Super Bowl ticket. They want to know that they're making a difference.”

Blood Bank of Hawaii COO Todd Lewis

Powering up
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, BBH averaged about 27,000 donors per year. But in the past two years, those numbers have plummeted. The need for blood products didn’t decrease but pandemic safety precautions meant BBH couldn’t hold events on campuses and many other in-person sites. College and university donations account for 20% of the annual blood supply.

Super donors, who are typically 65 and over, came to the rescue. “I’m grateful for the older generation that came out to save the lives of so many folks when blood centers across the country experienced shortages,” says Lewis.

“I've learned over the years that several friends of mine who were also really loyal donors are now unfortunately deferred for various reasons,” Goya says. “So as the need for blood and blood products is well established and recognized, I feel very fortunate that I still can donate.”

Super donor Kent Goya, seen here with one of BBH's phlebotomists, donates because he can.

Many super donors started giving whole blood at a young age. Donors with universal and rare blood types (O+, O-, A-, and B-) continue giving whole blood. They can expect to spend about an hour up to 6 times per year. But many super donors with A+, B+, and AB blood types are encouraged to give platelets. This process is more time-consuming, about an hour and a half to two hours per donation, but they can give four times as often.

“People tend to not want to stay there longer than necessary. That’s why the amount of time that I've been there is high,” says Taoka. “It’s just a little bit more time. I think it’s worthwhile. To me, you gotta think about why you're doing it, who you helped.”

Super donor Kyle Taoka, seen here with his wife, Ellen, and grandkids, donates to help others.

BBH’s mission is to provide a safe and adequate supply of blood, blood products, and related transfusion services to Hawaii’s patients. It’s something Lewis takes seriously considering 60% of Hawai‘i residents will need blood in their lifetime.

“I’m a service-minded leader. It’s all about service to the community,” says Lewis. “It’s an amazing mission. So no matter how demanding any one day may be for me personally, I feel great knowing our team and our donors are all saving lives together.”

Super donor John Flanigan donates after he was hit by a car as a child.

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