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Facing Your Fear in the Face of a Blood Crisis: Meet Melissa Balthazor

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s estimated that up to 25% of adults have a fear of needles. This common fear can often lead people to miss out on the fulfilling opportunity to donate blood and make a difference in someone’s life. But Melissa Balthazor was not missing out.

The call to donate has never been stronger. While January is National Blood Donor Month, this time around is much different. Aside from the typical obstacles posed to blood collection during the winter months – inclement weather canceling blood drives and flu season making fewer donors available – the ongoing pandemic has taken a serious toll on the nation’s blood supply.

The recent outbreak in COVID cases has led to fewer individuals donating blood out of fear of being exposed to the virus and businesses transitioning to remote work, reducing the number of available blood drives. This is especially true for schools and colleges that are popular donation spots.

Because of these challenges, the Red Cross is facing a national blood shortage – the worst it’s seen in a decade. There’s been a 10% decline in the number of people donating blood since the beginning of the pandemic.

Without consistent blood, platelet and plasma donations, there are barriers to patient care. Doctors have been forced to make difficult decisions about who receives certain medical treatments and who must wait until more blood becomes available.

After reading about the historically low blood supply in her local paper, Melissa knew that there was no better time for her to overcome her fear of needles and donate her blood. As a type O blood donor, she wanted to roll up her sleeve for years but struggled to find the courage to do so.

She donated blood for the very first time in early December and felt like a superhero.

After pushing past her fear of needles to help save lives, Melissa set up her next appointment.

Melissa hopes her story will inspire others to overcome their fear of needles and roll up their sleeves, especially during National Blood Donor Month.

What tips do you have for anyone who is holding back from donating because of fear? 

I told myself if you can get a blood test, then you can certainly donate blood. I would say let the staff know you are afraid as they are wonderful at helping keep you relaxed.

If you’re reluctant to donate for the first time, here are some helpful tips to ease your concerns.

What was the best part of donating?

Honestly everything. The staff made me feel like a superhero and it just warmed my heart so much to finally be doing something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time – plus, you get cookies afterwards.

What would you tell someone who has never donated before?

If you are able to push past your fear, which for me wasn’t any worse than getting blood drawn for testing, and if you are healthy and have good veins, then now would be the perfect time to donate. I was a little scared going in for the first time, but I soon realized I had nothing to be worried about, as the staff is so good and get so much practice at what they do.

Signing up to donate blood is easier than ever, says Melissa. You can search for an available blood drive near you and book your appointment at RedCrossBlood.org, through the Red Cross Blood Donor App or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

In light of COVID, to ensure the health and safety of everyone attending Red Cross blood drives, staff, donors and others at blood drives and blood centers are required to wear face masks and socially distance, regardless of their vaccination status. Hand sanitizer is also readily available.

As for Melissa, her first blood donation is certainly not her last. “When I got done with the health check and they took me back to the donation area and I realized I was really about to donate blood, something just came over me,” she said. “I was emotional, overfilled with happiness and a heartwarming feeling. I’m planning to keep doing this for as long as I am able to safely.”