Local blood donation drives are your opportunity to help save lives

Courtesy photos

LEFT: Roberta “Birdie” Bowker, right, says she donates blood as often as she can, and was inspired to do so by her late parents Wayne and Elizabeth Peterson. Her father Wayne, who passed away at the age of 88 on Oct. 10, 2020, began donating blood in his 20s, while her mom Elizabeth, who died on March 1, 2021, at the age of 86, volunteered for many years to help recruit donors for the local blood drives.

RIGHT: Jalon Delzer and his mom Emily, both of Rapid City, pose together at a recent Denver Broncos football game, which was a memorable moment made possible, thanks to the life-saving blood donated by Black Hills residents to the Vitalant blood center.


By Charity Maness

HOT SPRINGS – Vitalant Blood Donation of Rapid City will be coming to Hot Springs March 2, 2023, 11 am to 5:15 pm, at the Mueller Center in an effort to help transform lives within the community and across nearly 30 states through blood donations.

“It takes one hour to transform a life,” said Tori Robbins, Vitalant Communications Manager, of the gift of the donation of blood. Yet with only 3% of qualified blood donors actually donating blood, “keeping a safe blood supply is challenging.”

Blood from blood banks – now referred to as blood centers – are called upon daily from hospitals, surgical centers and emergency treatment facilities with the US daily need averaging 29, 000 units of red blood cells, 5,000 units of platelets and 6,500 units of plasma. This equals to someone in America needing blood every two seconds.

The majority of blood usage is a planned event such as a medical condition or disease which requires regular blood transfusions, often for the rest of the recipient’s life.

“We do see an uptick in donors when there is a tragedy in the news,” said Robbins, “but the reality is, we always need blood donors. We are trying to educate the public about the need to donate, and donate as often as possible.”

“I donate as often as I can,” said Roberta (Birdie) Bowker of Hot Springs. 

Bowker has been donating blood since the mid 1990s and has no intention of quitting.

“I first donated when a group of girls I worked with were going to donate and talked me into it,” she admitted of her first donation. “But when I told my dad what I did, he was so proud of me I just kept giving.” 

Bowker’s father, Wayne Peterson, donated blood since he was in his early 20s while serving in the Army, and knowing how important it was to her father, she continued to donate.

“I feel like it’s a way to give back,” she said, “I feel like I’m helping a lot of people.”

Bowker said her experience with Vitalant has been very good with every donor getting a mini physical before each blood draw, including height, weight, blood pressure, temperature, as well as a hemoglobin level test.

“They are all so kind,” she said. “They explain everything they are doing and make sure you are healthy before you donate. They really have everyone’s health at heart.”

Because of the thousands of people like Birdie Bowker, lives are saved, every two seconds in America.

Little Jalon Delzer of Rapid City was one such life that was saved.

When Jalon was 11 he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. He went through chemotherapy, amputation of his lower leg and many platelet and blood transfusions.

A day does not go by that his mother is not thankful to blood donors.

“The scariest was when his platelets were so low he would get nose bleeds, he kept bleeding and bleeding and bleeding,” said Emily Delzer, Jalon’s mother. “It just wouldn’t stop. We were so scared. His platelets had dropped to four (4,000 platelets per microliter – fatally low) and there was a chance that there wouldn’t be enough platelets available and then possibly not the right kind.”

Thankfully young Jalon was able to receive the platelets he needed.

“I never really truly knew the importance of blood donation until it was my own child,” said Delzer. “I had always thought it was life saving for someone in an accident, not somebody going through chemo, but it happens all the time.”

Though Delzer had been squeamish about needles, and even left school presentations about the importance of donating blood due to her ill feeling at the prospect of seeing needles or blood or even hearing about it, she quickly learned to swallow her fears and decided to donate.

“I remember one day I decided I was going to donate, after all if Jalon could go through all he did, I could handle 10 to 15 minutes of my life being squeamish,” said Delzer. “Jalon came with me. He was still in a wheelchair, so weak from recovery and the amputation, but he wanted to come with me. I will never forget that day.  Jalon began to yell to all the donors, ‘You are all saving lives.’ I think it gave them something tangible to see where their donation was going.”

“He could have died and he was only 11,” she said in whispered reverence, “those donations saved his life.”

Now with Jalon two years in remission, his mother pictures him every time she donates.

“I still donate to this day,” she said, “even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s not that bad. We both truly understand the value of the donation.”

Saving lives is the cornerstone of Vitalant’s work.

“When we hear the stories from the patients who have used blood and they tell us we saved their lives, or the life of their wife, husband, son, daughter… it is unbelievable the gratefulness they have for that anonymous donor,” said Robbins, “Our efforts result in people having more time with their loved ones. I love every aspect of what we do and why we do it.”

Yet she is well aware that donors are the true heroes.

“Donors are the reason people are still here enjoying time with their family,” she said.

 Though a donor will never know whose life they may have saved, Vitalant offer donors the option to sign up for text notices that will let the donor know when their blood was used to save a life.

“I have been with Vitalant for 12 years,” said Robbins, “I know what we do is save lives, I talk about it with everyone I meet, but when I received my first text that my blood had been used to save a life, it was like, “Wow, now I really get it”, it was an amazing feeling.”

“Because of you, life doesn’t stop,” said Robbins of her thankfulness to blood donors.

Members of the Lions Club will be manning the registration table with walk-ins welcome. 

To learn more about becoming a donor, online registration, to check your eligibility due to newly updated FDA rules or host a donation event visit Vitalant.org and click the ‘donate now’ button. If you want to talk with a representative from Vitalant call Jessica Pierce at 605-858-4119.

Fall River County Herald Star

EDGEMONT OFFICE: 410 2nd Avenue   Edgemont, SD 57735-0660 | 605.662.7201
HOT SPRINGS OFFICE: 334 S. Chicago St.  Hot Springs, SD 57747 | 605.745.3930
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