Mountain Causes: Donating blood at the WNC Red Cross

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Volunteer Dottie Burton, right, gives Asheville Citizen-Times columnist Jacob Flannick a can of juice while he is monitored by collection specialist Carrie Banks, left, after he gave blood at the Asheville-Mountain Chapter of the American Red Cross on Monday, Feb. 15, 2016. Burton has been volunteering with the organization for about 18 years.

After being told that she was unable to donate blood, Dottie Burton found another way to give, volunteering for the Asheville-Mountain Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.

That was about 18 years ago. Since then, Burton, a sprightly retiree who spent decades working in the retail world, has remained an accommodating fixture here at the blood donation center in North Asheville.

“There is never a dull day here,” she said with a smile this past Monday, wearing a fleece vest and a neck scarf.

A few days a week, she serves as a kind of hostess in the donation center, bearing sugary drinks, snacks and bags of ice for donors. Perhaps most important, she encourages them to return.

Her hospitable touch had a calming effect, if only for a moment, as I prepared to give a pint of blood. While it was not my first time doing so, I had to steel myself this time around.

After having my blood pressure taken in a tiny office, I was pricked with a needle to measure the level of hemoglobin in my blood — the protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues.

Then, on a computer, I answered a series of questions to determine my eligibility. That was when I started feeling a bit lightheaded: Asked if I’ve ever contracted this or that disease, I began feeling a bit vulnerable, thinking that while I have remained relatively healthy over the years, that could change.

However valid my wariness, it subsided amid the comforting tone of the collection specialist who would draw my blood, Carrie Banks. She was reassuring, making small talk as I eased into a reclining chair after the preparations. Gently asking me to look away, she subtly slipped the needle into my left arm.

Minutes later, the bag was full. I attempted to sit up, but it was too soon. My body needed more time to recover.

Then came Dottie, delivering across the light-filled room a tiny can of cranberry juice with an unwrapped drinking straw in its mouth. Replenished, I slowly sat back up, this time finding my feet.

Formed in 1911, the Mountain-Asheville Area chapter covers 16 counties in Western North Carolina and comprises more than 300 volunteers, said Amanda Edwards, its executive director. They are a crucial part of the nonprofit humanitarian organization, which relies entirely on donations.

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American Red Cross volunteer Dottie Burton talks with Asheville Citizen-Times columnist Jacob Flannick about the work that the Red Cross does at the Asheville-Mountain Area Chapter on Monday, Feb. 15, 2016. Burton volunteers in the blood donation area but the Red Cross also provides other services including disaster relief.

In addition to Burton’s role in the donation center, volunteers serve as receptionists, organizers of blood drives and disaster relief workers.

Responding to fires throughout the region, the Red Cross provides support services for the displaced, such as emergency shelter and financial assistance. In January, the region saw more than 50 fires, most of them involving houses, Edwards noted.

“We can’t do it by ourselves,” she said.

For its part, the donation center collects about 350 units of blood each month, in addition to about 2,400 units at other donation sites over the same period, Edwards said.

The chapter is holding a series of blood drives throughout the area in the coming week, including two in downtown Asheville. One is scheduled for Feb. 24 at the First Baptist Church, on Oak Street, the other for Feb. 28 at the Central United Methodist Church, on Church Street.

For Burton, a petite 85-year-old with a sunny personality, her enthusiasm for such charitable acts is apparent. While she herself has never given blood — she has managed to stay below the minimum weight limit for those ages 17 and older, 110 pounds — she is one of the longest-serving volunteers for the chapter.

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A sticker ready to be placed on a blood donor at the Asheville-Mountain Area Chapter of the American Red Cross

“Everyone who comes into this place, they’re saving a life,” Burton said. “To me, they are the greatest volunteers.”

Indeed, giving blood is significant, especially given that the average adult holds only about 10 pints of it. That is particularly true in winter months, when the number of donations tends to decrease, Edwards noted.

That is why Tom Muncy, a 73-year-old Vietnam War veteran, has donated about 18 gallons so far. Living around the corner from the donation center, he has made it a point to do so four times each year.

When he reaches 20 gallons, “I don’t think I’m going to stop,” he said at the center on Monday. Noting that his blood is O-positive, he added, “I can give.”

This is the opinion of Jake Flannick, filling in for Mountain Causes Reporter Beth Walton while she is out on maternity leave. Like Walton, each week I plan to volunteer around Asheville and share my adventure with our readers. If you’d like me to visit your group, contact me at jacobflannick@gmail.com or 828-232-5829. Learn more atwww.citizen-times.com/causes.

GET INVOLVED

The Asheville-Mountain Area chapter of the American Red Cross is always seeking more volunteers. For more information, call Alison Gibbons, the chapter’s volunteer specialist, at 828-333-9919.

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