published Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Blood Assurance celebrates 40 years of giving in Chattanooga

If you go

• What: Blood Assurance 40th Anniversary 24-Hour Blood Drive

• When: 4 p.m. Thursday - 4 p.m. Friday

• Where: Blood Assurance Center, Erlanger (4 p.m.-7 a.m.) and Erlanger Medical Mall (7 a.m.-4 p.m.)

• Admission: None

• Phone: 756-0966

• Website: www.bloodassurance.org

Blood Facts

• O negative is the universal donor; all types can receive this.

• About 40,000 units of blood are used each day in the U.S.

• Donors can give blood every eight weeks and platelets more often.

• Someone needs blood every six seconds in this area.

• Females receive 53 percent of blood transfused.

• Donating blood is safe.

Source: bloodassurance.org

Arthur Szustak said the first time he donated blood, it was to win a bet.

"It was fraternity against fraternity," he said, "who could get people to donate the most blood."

That was in 1963, he said, and he hasn't stopped donating since.

Szustak, now 68, is the top donor at Blood Assurance, which celebrates its 40th anniversary on Friday. To mark the occasion, it will hold a 24-hour blood drive beginning Thursday at 4 p.m. at Erlanger Health System, site of the first Blood Assurance drive.

"Back then, you had to actually go to the hospital to donate," said Blood Assurance spokeswoman Lacey Wilson. "We didn't have a facility then."

More than 100,000 people donated to Blood Assurance in 2010 and 2011, with a growth of about 1,600 donors last year.

However, Wilson said, economic strains have actually caused blood donations to taper off.

"If we went to a plant and they had 500 workers, they might only have 250 workers now," she said. "They're doing double the workload, so they don't have time to stop to give blood."

Despite some confusion from people who have mistaken blood assurance with for-profit platelet centers, all the donations that go to hospitals from Blood Assurance come from unpaid donors, Wilson said.

Over the years, Szustak has donated the equivalent of 55 gallons of blood, he said, and has never received payment for it.

Donating blood does not hurt, he assures nervous first-timers.

"It's healthy, it's safe, it's quick, and you can save up to three lives," said Wilson. "There is no substitute for blood."

Szustak said he began donating regularly when a colleague's mother needed platelets.

"I won't say I enjoy it, but (I like) knowing that I can help people. At times I was a direct match for people who were going through chemo or needed platelets."

According to the Blood Assurance website, more than 400 donations per day are required to meet the need for blood in the greater Chattanooga area.

"Most people come in about once or twice a year," said Wilson. "If they would actually come in just one more time, blood shortages would be rare."

Contact Holly Leber at hleber@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6391. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/hollyleber. Subscribe to her on Facebook at facebook.com/holly.j.leber.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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