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NMRTC Great Lakes blood donor center meets mission

Medical Laboratory Technician Joseph Langley draws blood from Marine Corps Cpl. Jeffrey Le, from Marine Tactical Air Control 48, during a fall mobile ASBP blood drive.
Medical Laboratory Technician Joseph Langley draws blood from Marine Corps Cpl. Jeffrey Le, from Marine Tactical Air Control 48, during a fall mobile ASBP blood drive.

Marines, sailors, soldiers, airmen, coast guard, active duty, recruits, reservists, family members, veterans and civilians – all are recruited.

Naval Station Great Lakes, Recruit Training Command, Marine Air Control Group 48, Military Entrance Processing Command Headquarters, the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center and its clinics – all play host.

For more than 20 years, a dedicated team has worked the Great Lakes area, drawing blood from donors of all ages, to save lives on the battlefield, at military installations and elsewhere - including other Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and Lovell FHCC.

The team holds drives four or more times a week, with the bulk of the donated blood coming from Navy recruits. With some frequency, the team holds mobile drives – packing, driving, setting up, conducting the drive, and then bringing the blood products back to the processing site Lovell FHCC, where the Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Great Lakes Blood Donor Processing Division donor center is located adjacent to the main lab.

The next mobile drive will be at Lovell FHCC, 7:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m., Dec. 15 and 16, in Bourke Hall, Bldg. 4. Walk-ins are possible but appointments are recommended because of ongoing COVID-19 protocols. To make an appointment online, go to:

The Armed Services Blood Program (ASBP), also known as the military blood program, is the official provider of blood and blood products to the U.S. Armed Forces. NMRTC Great Lakes Blood Donor Processing Division is one of 20 ASBP blood donor centers across the globe, supporting the medical departments of the Navy, Army and Air Force and other government agencies when needed. Great Lakes is one of two Navy blood donor centers that manufactures frozen blood for distribution throughout the Department of Defense.

ASBP’s mission is to collect, process, store and transport blood and blood products to ill or injured service members, their families, retirees, and veterans worldwide.

The bottom line, said NMRTC Great Lakes Blood Donor Recruiter Pamela Robinson, “is in a matter of minutes, anyone can save a life by donating blood. It’s only a 15-minute process, maybe up to 30 minutes … we get you in and out. You can save anywhere from two to three lives.”

On a recent weekday morning, a team of nine conducted a mobile drive at Marine Air Control Group 48 in North Chicago. Cpl. Jeffrey Le, Marine Tactical Air Control 48, showed up early and was happy to donate.

“It’s a very good cause,” said Le, who is a reservist on active duty. “I have done it several times, during high school, and tried one other time to do it here. I’m happy I made it here today.”

“The Marines always show up for us,” Robinson said. “They never tell us no … From the Commander on down, they donate when we ask.”

Recruits always show up, too. Robinson called them “the bread and butter” of the program. At RTC, two to three divisions a weekday come through, usually Monday through Friday. 

“We have a quota,” Robinson said. “The need is always there – even during the pandemic.” The quota is what drove the team to cast a wider net, beyond RTC, to get donors during the pandemic. For more than two years when RTC drives were halted, NMRTC Great Lakes Blood Donor Processing Division had to extend its reach to NSGL-area tenant units and beyond.

Every two weeks, the NMRTC Great Lakes Blood Donor Processing Division ships 80 units to the East and West Armed Services Whole Blood Processing Laboratories, said Martha Pope, assistant division head.

To put it in perspective, when a person donates blood, they donate about one unit (a pint), approximately 10 percent of their total blood volume. According to ASBP statistics, a single trauma victim may require 40 units of blood. Eight units of platelets may be required daily by leukemia patients undergoing treatment, and a single pint of blood can sustain a premature infant’s life for two weeks.

The rest of the 18-member division works in the donor center at Lovell FHCC, where team members do the processing, component manufacturing and shipping of blood products. The blood donations further manufactured as Fresh Frozen Plasma (FFP) must be frozen within eight hours of collection, but it usually takes the team less time to complete, Pope said.

Many different steps must be taken by the donor center’s medical technologists and medical lab technicians, including ID verification, testing for sickle cell trait, leuko-reduction (filtering and removal of white blood cells), labeling and quality assurance checks.

The Blood Donor Processing Division recently completed an inspection by the Food and Drug Administration – with no findings. These inspections ensure the safety, purity, and potency of the blood products the division collects and manufactures.

“We have to be ready at all times,” Pope said. The amount of blood the NMRTC Great Lakes donor center is asked to send out on any given week can fluctuate based on current global events, she said. “It’s a significant mission that our staff accomplishes here every day.”

Generally, it takes two to three days for a unit of blood to be available to transfuse to a patient, according to Lt. Cmdr. Michael Collins, division chief. “We must always be thinking a few days in advance. You never donate blood for the emergency happening today. You donate blood for the emergency that will happen three days from now."

Both Collins and Pope hope the Lovell FHCC family is feeling generous this week and answers the call to donate and "save a life."