Q&A With Rush Blood Center’s Malissa Lichtenwalter

Rush is sponsoring an American Red Cross blood drive on World Blood Donor Day, which is Tuesday, June 15. To mark the occasion, Rush’s Simone Taylor Deaderick sat down with Apheresis Blood Donor Recruiter Malissa Lichtenwalter to find out more about the Rush Blood Center and her work there. Here’s an edited transcript of the interview.

For starters, what do you do and how did you get started?

When I came to the Rush Blood Center as the apheresis donor recruiter, I was to come in and help educate people about the importance of donating platelets and getting people to donate platelets here at Rush. Currently,  I focus primarily on Rush employees and patients who have an anticipated need of platelets transfusion. Our bone marrow patients and some of our oncology patients know that they’re going to need platelets during their course of treatment. So what I do when many of these patients come in, I talk with them and let them know about platelets donation — how our assigned donor program is here for their friends and family who want to support them.  In addition I encourage donors to pay it forward by donating platelets in general.

So how important is donating platelets? I’ve never really heard of donating platelets

A lot of people are very familiar with blood donation, and  know you can donate blood every 56 days or basically three or four times a year, whereas platelets are different. Platelets are your body’s bandages and they only have a shelf life once they are collected of five days. Also, donating platelets is more time-consuming, so you have a longer donation time, which is a challenge for people. We have a wonderful blood supplier from American Red Cross, but it’s very important for us as well to let our employees know and also the public that they can donate platelets at the Rush Blood Center.  All of the blood and platelets that we collect in the Blood Center itself stay here and  will help benefit our patients here at Rush.

What brought you to Rush and how long have you been here?

I’ve been at Rush a little over two years. What brought me to Rush is that Rush has a history of a very vibrant donor program and historically it was very robust, but they had been without any recruitment or educational leadership for many years. I saw an opportunity to help Rush and liked the Rush values and wanted to be a part of resurrecting the donor program.

What’s the significance of World Blood Donor Day?

World Blood Donor Day is another opportunity for us to let people know that there is someone out there who needs blood as well as saying thank you to all of the donors. World Blood Donor Day is, needless to say, international in scope.  This year it is focusing on younger donors and trying to do more outreach and education in that area.

Have you ever had a person come in and change their mind? I know when I donated blood I was terrified, I literally cried the whole time.

People are very nervous about it. Many times it’s somebody who hasn’t donated blood before and they’re scared.  So if they have gone to the effort of coming in, a lot of times it’s a matter of validating their fears and letting them know that it’s okay to be scared in one sense, but overall it really shouldn’t be that scary. And we still give you cookies afterwards.

The blood drive runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday in the Cafeteria South Dining Hall of the Armour Academic Center. To schedule an appointment, please go to redcrossblood.org (sponsor code 3351 or ZIP code 60612) or contact blood_donor@rush.edu.

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