020416-mis-nws-blood-bikes

Nathan Francis donates blood while phlebotomist Pam Gustin explains some of the process to him at the Bicycle Hangar on Wednesday. The shop's owner, Peter Kern, began hosting blood drives after his wife Hailey went through regular blood transfusions while receiving treatment for cancer.

While winter is usually a slow time for the bike industry, the inside of the Bicycle Hangar was busy Wednesday as the shop hosted a blood donation drive for the American Red Cross.

Peter Kern, owner of the Missoula bike shop, started hosting the two-day blood drives after his wife Hailey was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in March 2014.

“She received blood transfusions very regularly throughout her treatment,” he said.

Kern said he started donating in college after attending a drive held by the Alpha Phi sorority and continued to give regularly in part because he has type O-negative blood, making him a universal red cell donor.

For this year’s drive, the shop’s third, Kern reached out to friends, customers and businesses near the bike shop, scheduling 74 people for appointments between Tuesday and Wednesday, including nine current and former employees.

Kristi Tranter of the American Red Cross, who was running the blood drive, said an emergency need for blood donations exists.

Storms in January canceled more than 340 drives across the United States, she said, resulting in the loss of 9,500 units of blood that would have been collected. Also, the Red Cross typically gets a fewer donors between Thanksgiving and New Year’s because people are busier around the holidays.

“We’re in an appeal right now for us to get as many units as we can,” Tranter said.

Staff from the Missoula Red Cross office travel as far away as St. Regis, Deer Lodge and Salmon, Idaho, to hold blood drives. Often, the blood collected stays in Montana unless it is nearing the end of its 42-day shelf life and is needed elsewhere.

“There’s a less than 1 percent non-usage of blood,” Tranter said.

The key to being a successful donor is preparation, Tranter said. Donors should eat a large meal and drink 32 to 40 ounces of water before giving blood.

“I always say today is the day you get to eat whatever you want because of the calories we take out,” she said.

Each donor goes through a short physical that measures blood pressure, pulse and hemoglobin count, and answers questions about their health history. That information is sent along with the unit of blood in what Tranter likened to a passport.

“Everything that we do is a procedural step, so we know every unit we put out there has gone through the same criteria,” she said.

From the time they walk in the door, the whole process takes between 45 minutes to an hour, with the average time for the actual blood draw being around six minutes, Tranter said.

While this week’s blood drive took place inside the Bicycle Hangar because there are fewer customers during winter, Kern said he’s planning to hold another one in the summer, when the Red Cross can set up its mobile donation bus in the parking lot.

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