By Alex Keilty, American Red Cross volunteer
Across the top of the box is a typed address label for a local hospital and a simple handwritten note: “Pediatric Order.” Down the side is the American Red Cross logo and the words “Human Blood.”
Volunteer Claudia Langley loads the white box into the trunk of a Red Cross van, along with the rest of the boxes packed with blood products she is delivering to four hospitals today.
As she starts the engine and types the address of the hospital into the GPS on her cell phone she says, “The sad part is there are not enough donations.”
It’s true, she’s right. Certain kinds of blood are rarer than others. For example, this pediatric order she is carrying today – blood destined for babies – must be screened for a flu-like virus called CMV that is very common and mild in adults but can be fatal to infants. Only about 15 percent of American adults have not been exposed to CMV and therefore are able to donate to newborns. Plus, blood products have a limited shelf life so there is always a need for more donations to replenish the supply.
But today, there is blood available for a tiny patient in MarinHealth Medical Center, thanks to blood donors and volunteers like Claudia, a blood transportation specialist.
Retired from a career in art direction and graphic design, Claudia has been doing this role for the Red Cross for 2.5 years. To get trained, she completed a course online and then shadowed a fellow volunteer until she felt comfortable going alone. Now she does a four-hour shift once a week by herself.
As she drives across the Richmond Bridge over San Francisco Bay she plays music on the radio – “anything but country” – and explains how her volunteer role gives her faith in the good in others.
“It makes me feel better about people in general. You run across people who are trying to help,” she says.
Half an hour after setting off from the Red Cross Oakland Blood Center, she pulls up to the front of the hospital, stacks some of the Red Cross boxes on a cart and rolls them to the lab. Clinical laboratory scientists will match the blood types of the donated blood to patients’ blood types and then give it to the doctors and nurses who are treating the babies and other patients awaiting these blood products.
Everyone she interacts with mentions how grateful they are for her efforts, including Red Cross staff, laboratory staff and even strangers in the hospital.
“Sometimes random people walk by and say thank you for doing this,” she says.
Claudia has encouraged friends and acquaintances to begin volunteering as Red Cross blood transportation specialists because of how positive her experience has been.
“It’s not strenuous or super challenging, but it’s something you can do that’s helpful,” she says. “I am thrilled with the way they treat me and the way they are organized for the drivers and deliveries.”
From Marin she will do deliveries to hospitals in Richmond, Alameda and then back to Oakland where she will hand in the keys to the van and head home before traffic gets busy.
She describes her role as “getting the blood to where it needs to be” and today she definitely delivered blood to where it needed to be: to a tiny patient waiting in hospital for life-saving treatment.
The Red Cross relies on volunteers like Claudia to ensure patients have lifesaving blood products when they need them – and more volunteers are needed. Learn more and submit a volunteer application at redcross.org/volunteertoday.