The American Red Cross for kids

Thursday, January 25, 2007
Central Middle School students hoped to volunteer for Stephen Gates of the American Red Cross on Friday at Central Middle School. Gates, a project leader for youth initiatives, taught the children about the importance of donating blood and how one donor can save up to three lives. (Kit Doyle)

Alex Swan knows how blood can save lives.

The 11-year-old's own life was saved after he received a blood transfusion three years ago after being hit by a vehicle while riding his bicycle.

"I lost a lot of blood," said Swan, a fifth-grade student at Central Middle School. "Blood is medicine -- it's important for people to donate it."

That was the message Stephen Gates, an American Red Cross project leader for youth initiatives, hoped to express to fifth- and sixth-grade students last week at a Red Cross-sponsored assembly at Central Middle School.

Gates travels to elementary and middle schools throughout Missouri promoting the Red Cross and the importance of blood donation.

"Even though these kids can't donate blood, they can be great recruiters," he said.

Students erupted with laughter at the start of a presentation on the importance of blood donations.

The Red Cross educates students at a young age about the importance of blood donation through the "Would You Be My Hero?" program. Through the program, students are provided information about the medical use for donated blood and the requirements for donating.

"Blood is medicine. Sometimes people get very sick and blood is the only medicine people can take to get better," Gates told the students. "Three people can be saved from one pint of blood."

Debbie Followell, middle school assistant principal, said the program is a great learning tool for the students, who will sponsor their own blood drive from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday.

"We have all the community covered here at this school if the students bring in their parents," she said. "When the students see their parents donating blood, then hopefully they will be more likely to be donors when they get older."

Adam Coomer, left, expressed thanks at Central Middle School on Friday to a potential blood donor among the students who could have saved his life with a blood donation. Markese Horton, center, was another with a "saved" life according to Stephen Gates, right, of the American Red Cross, who taught the students the multiple ways blood is used after a donation.

Which is also another goal of the Red Cross, Gates said. "We've got a missing age gap for donors," he said. "These blood drives at the middle schools really pull in the lost donors."

Fifth-grade student Ashley Westbrook, 10, said she isn't sure if her parents donate blood, but she plans to ask them to attend her school's blood drive.

"The Red Cross helps people, and that's a good thing," Westbrook said.

Gates informed students that donating blood wasn't a painful experience. "If you squeeze your two fingers together and pinch your skin, that's what it feels like," Gates said.

Westbrook is still a little unsure. "Donating blood kind of scares me now, but I will probably donate when I get older," she said.

The American Red Cross-sponsored "Would You Be My Hero?" program is in its fifth year. It's proved to be a successful tool for increasing the area blood supply, Gates said.

Last year, the Central Middle School-sponsored blood drive surpassed its 25-unit goal by bringing in an additional eight units of blood.

"We really try to get our students to give back to the community," Followell said. "This is an important project for them."

The upcoming Red Cross blood drives are crucial to the not-for-profit organization, which is in a critical need for blood.

Kelly Ressel, an associate donor recruitment account manager, said the local Red Cross has less than a one-day supply of blood.

Any schools interested in the Red Cross program and school-sponsored blood drive are asked to contact Ressel at (573) 986-7951.

335-6611, extension 246

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