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    Blood donors gladly wait for hours to do their part

    Turnout is so heavy that some volunteers are asked to donate later.

    By ANITA KUMAR

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 13, 2001


    photo
    [Times photo: Jennifer Davis]
    Hundreds line up Wednesday at Tropicana Field to donate blood to Florida Blood Services. Temporary centers cropped up at Tropicana Field, Legends Field and other locations to accommodate donors.

    The wait to donate blood in the Tampa Bay area was an unprecedented six hours Wednesday. But, on this day, everyone seemed to have time.

    Lines began forming at 7 a.m., hours before some donation centers even planned to open. At noon, hundreds of people waited patiently to provide blood to be shipped north. By the afternoon, some were being turned away, asked to return another day.

    But many wouldn't leave, insisting they help the victims of Tuesday's horrific terrorist attacks the only way they knew how.

    "I'm not leaving until I give blood," said 21-year-old Nicole Davis, four hours late for work and still hours away from the front of the line at Legends Field in Tampa on Wednesday afternoon. "I feel helpless."

    Blood suppliers from Pinellas to Hillsborough to Citrus counties expected huge crowds. But the outpouring, mirrored around the nation on Wednesday, was overwhelming.

    "We knew we would have a lot of donors," said Karen Rhodenizer, director of public affairs for LifeSouth Community Blood Centers. "But we had no idea how many it would be. Nothing could have prepared us for this."

    Though air travel remained restricted Wednesday, blood suppliers managed to send two shipments of blood to New York and Washington.

    A shipment of 1,000 pints of blood from Central Florida was taken to a New York airport by a medical courier that received permission to fly Wednesday. The Citrus Regional Blood Center, which serves the north Suncoast, sent 200 pints by truck to Washington -- an 18-hour trip -- in refrigerated coolers Tuesday.

    "This is the least we can do for our country," said Greg Holle, 39, who brought a crew of workers from his company, Environmental Landscape Services, to Tropicana Field. "People need the blood."

    Even Gov. Jeb Bush urged Floridians to donate blood, and he rolled up his sleeve and led a group of state leaders in donating at a bloodmobile parked in the Capitol courtyard in Tallahassee.

    St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker donated blood, though he didn't wait for hours. He was spirited to the head of the line and shook the hand of each person waiting as his gesture of thanks.

    Florida blood suppliers, among others, had been asked to donate blood to hospitals in New York and Washington. By Wednesday afternoon, blood levels in both cities were more than adequate.

    But so many would-be donors continued to flood area centers that some were turned away. That's because blood suppliers are worried donations will drop off in a few weeks when they still will be needed, particularly for burn victims and those needing multiple surgeries. Also because blood -- usually divided into three components -- has a shelf life. While some parts can last for a year, others are good for just three to five days.

    Dan Eberts of Florida Blood Services said he was encouraging people to make appointments for another day or come back in a few weeks. It was a tough sell.

    "We've got to do something," said Ken Ulrich, 37, a bridge inspector from Sarasota who showed up at Tropicana Field before going to work. "It's the only thing we can think of right now."

    The crisis up North even helped the Tampa Bay area replenish its blood supply, which was done before any could be sent to other states. Consider that LifeSouth collected 2,800 units in a day, more than it usually collects in a week.

    Blood centers were opened extended hours. Temporary centers cropped up at Tropicana Field, Legends Field and other locations. Businesses donated food and drinks. Volunteers showed up to work phones, answer questions, help out any way they could. Radio stations gave out American flags.

    While waiting in long lines, people watched the news, read the newspaper, talked to people they had never met before but felt a common bond. They sat on the floor, some with teary eyes, others with somber faces.

    "It's just the right thing to do, to be helpful," said Karen DeSantis, who showed up at Tropicana Field shortly before 9 a.m., along with her niece and her niece's 8-month-old baby.

    Some people said they donated blood because they didn't know what else to do -- besides pray. Some took President Bush's words in his Tuesday night address -- to donate blood -- to heart.

    "They wanted to be here and do something," Rhodenizer said. "What else could they do? They felt helpless."

    -- Times staff writers Curtis Krueger, Dong-Phuong Nguyen, Steve Bousquet, Bryan Gilmer, Babita Persaud and Eileen Schulte contributed to this report.

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