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Vermont city smashes US blood-donation record

Wednesday - 12/18/2013, 7:08pm  ET

In this Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013 photo, Red Cross blood collection specialist Shawna Pratt, left, collects a pint of blood from Lisa Fennimore during the annual Gift of Life blood drive marathon in Rutland, Vt. The one-day blood drive set a record by collecting 2,337 pints, beating the previous national record of 1,968 pints. (AP Photo/Rutland Herlad, Albert J. Marro)

WILSON RING
Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- A Vermont city of only 17,000 souls just smashed the national one-day record for blood donations -- and it's likely to stand for quite a while.

After Rutland's 11th annual Gift of Life Marathon collected 2,337 pints of blood Tuesday, the regional Red Cross said it's unlikely to undertake another such drive because of the difficulty of staging it. Rutland required some 300 Red Cross staffers from New England and New York, 200 volunteers and thousands of donors.

"We had agreed that this would be the last time we went for a national record," said Steve Costello, one of the main organizers of the Rutland drive, which broke the previous one-day U.S. record of 1,968 pints set by Manchester, N.H., in 2011.

The online Guinness World Records says the one-day world-wide record of 43,732 pints was set in India in 2010.

The Vermont record comes as the nation's blood-collection system undergoes dramatic change.

It began with the Great Recession, when Americans who had lost their jobs and health insurance put off non-critical procedures. Blood-management programs, which include collecting blood lost during an operation and returning it to the patient, maximizing hemoglobin levels to prevent anemia, and using medications to reduce bleeding during surgery, are also contributing to the decline.

Mary Brant, spokeswoman for the Northern New England Chapter of the American Red Cross, said the organization supported the Rutland effort but agreed it would be the last big drive in the region.

"The logistics of an event this size are extremely complicated," said Brant. "Our goal is to collect blood as efficiently as possible ... and there are just other ways for us to do this, doing more blood drives, spread throughout Vermont."

When asked how a city of just over 17,000 could break a national record by such a margin, Brant said she didn't know.

"There's absolutely no way a city the size of Rutland should have this record," she said. "I have no idea why Rutland can do it and Boston can't."

Costello, a vice president at Green Mountain Power, said adding Castleton State College, about 15 miles west of Rutland, to the list of main sponsors gave this year's drive the boost it needed to set the national record on its third try.

Castleton State President David Wolk drove donors on a shuttle bus to collection sites. Vermont's lone congressman, Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, spent several hours greeting people at one of the five locations. (He was ineligible to give blood because of recent travel overseas.)

A change in state law that lowered the age threshold for blood donation from 18 to 16 -- not passed to help Rutland break the record, but to bring it in line with national norms -- helped bring in 90 Rutland High School students.

A few years ago, some people had to wait six hours before giving blood. This year, people were in and out in an hour and a half or less.

"It was as smooth as silk," Costello said.


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