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Science & Technology

Blood Bank Debuts New Technology To Help Young Donors

Crystal Chavez
Madison High School student Sarah Williams looks at her veins through new technology at a blood drive on campus.

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center has a new device to make blood donations easier for young donors, and it looks like it's straight out of "Star Trek." The technology will be used during mobile blood drives at area high schools like Madison High in San Antonio where a recent drive was held.

Sarah Williams, a senior in ROTC at Madison, volunteered for it. Williams says she knows the importance of giving blood.

“My mom has had to have a blood transfusion before, and I think that it’s good that someone out there was willing to donate their blood to help her, so I think I that I could do the same for someone else,” explained Williams.

But donating hasn’t always been a walk in the park for her.“They stick me a lot of times to find a vein!”

Brian Clark, director of donor services at the Blood & Tissue Center, says Williams isn't the only one with that problem.

 “Most of our challenges with collecting blood from these donors are from young females who are very close to not meeting the weight requirements. Often [they] have very small veins, so our primary focus upon implementing this new tool at the high schools and colleges is for us to be able to have better success rates with those young donors,” Clark said.

That new tool is called the VeinViewer Flex. This handheld instrument makes it easier for phlebotomists to find a vein and get it right on the first stick. The tool projects a green light on the surface of the skin that highlights the veins that's like seeing right through your skin. The technology isn’t new to the health care industry, but Clark says it is new to blood banking.

Williams was enthusiastic about having the technology used on her arm. “[The nurse] simply did a little marker and she outlined where she saw it and just stuck me once. It was really comfortable,” said Williams.

Credit Crystal Chavez

Teens need to be at least 16 years old to donate but need parental approval at that age. At 17 they can donate on their own. Young donors are important to the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center.  Clark says high school and college students make up about thirty percent of all of their blood collections. That’s 40 to 50 thousand blood products a year. But in the past, the center has lost as many as four thousand units of blood over the course of a year because of bad blood draws, when no blood is drawn after a needle is inserted.

It’s easy to understand how someone might change their mind about giving after being repeatedly poked and prodded with a needle. Clark said each VeinViewer has a price tag in the tens of thousands of dollars. The blood bank has eight vein viewers on hand. Seven are in San Antonio, and one is in Victoria.

“It’s a considerable investment," said Clark, "but it's definitely worth it, because the return we're going to see from it is, once the donor experience is improved, and anytime we can alleviate a lost product due to a bad stick, that’s a wonderful win both for us and the recipient patients as well.”

This investment isn’t just about recovering those lost blood donations. It’s also about making sure people have a good first experience, so they will keep coming back.

“We’re hoping that we can commit to a donor for life," Clark continued. "That’s what we’re looking to get, is folks who understand the importance of blood donation. These are the kinds of things we can do to start instilling a giving nature that really doesn't take a lot of effort or time to be involved with your community.”

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center serves 67 hospitals in 43 counties in South Texas. As for student Sarah Williams, she says she will be donating again—even after graduation.