Sunday, Aug. 14, 2022 |
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It has been fashionable on our island for the last couple of years to lament that we — and the rest of the state — import 90 percent of our food. Again and again, this wailing refrain has become a core element of the anti-GMO message.
It is as if Kauai is incapable of providing for itself, a reality that could change, but only with a remarkably focused, new emphasis on agriculture of all kinds — organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO.
But lurking behind this endless and seemingly irresolvable debate has been a reality we should not overlook in terms of what it says about our island and how the collective will of its people can make a big difference.
I’m talking about blood. If you’ve been to the Wilcox Memorial Hospital emergency room, for example, you’ve probably assumed that if you’ve suffered from massive blood loss, there will be a readily available source of supply.
There is and it’s the end product of a complex supply chain engineered by the Blood Bank of Hawaii, based in Honolulu. You may have seen their signs directing donors to parking for a particular blood drive day — events that happen, on average, six times a year.
At these events, Kauai produces 84.5 percent of the blood needed to keep residents alive in extreme emergency situations.
I’ve been a regular blood donor since 1984. And, in my experience, the Blood Bank of Hawaii Neighbor Island operation is the most logistically incredible feat I’ve ever seen. Statistics and information presented here are from them.
Statewide, every day, 150 to 200 people roll up their sleeves and bleed into plastic tubes and plastic bags. On Kauai, blood drives days are typically heavily subscribed, with, for example, 289 people donating in June and 241 in August. In 2014, 731 people donated blood here, of whom 242 made the commitment to give three or more units per year.
The blood collected on island is flown to Oahu and processed into several different products, including platelets, plasma and red cells. That way, the 48,943 units of blood collected throughout the state last year ended up in the distribution system as 77,719 individual blood products.
As a statewide proposition, even including the occasional need for rare blood types, the Blood Bank of Hawaii seldom has to fall back on Mainland resources. To make this work, there has to be a 24/7 system in which blood products needed on islands other than Oahu are flown there quickly.
Some of the most common blood products are stockpiled in small amounts at local hospitals, so a hemorrhaging woman in labor or a badly injured car crash or surfing accident victim who arrives at Wilcox can be stabilized. If the hospital does not have enough blood on hand, an airplane will be dispatched quickly from Honolulu, or the patient will be transferred there — also by air.
The distribution of donors by island is, unsurprisingly, dominated by Oahu, which accounts for 83 percent of number of donors. Population differences being what they are, Hawaii Island accounts for 9 percent; Maui for 5 percent and Kauai for 3 percent.
Blood Bank of Hawaii described its mission this way: “Our goal is to remain self-sufficient for Hawaii. On occasion, when blood use is unusually high or collections are low, we have support from Mainland blood donor centers to supplement our collections.”
Please do not misinterpret this recitation of our blood situation as something that invites complacency. Blood Bank of Hawaii flies teams over here every six weeks and sets up its donor centers in places like the Hyatt in Poipu — long a supporter of Kauai blood drives — and the Convention Center in Lihue, Wilcox and various schools other public buildings.
In other words, we can be self-sufficient in ways we may, perhaps, never have thought about. If it’s blood, it could be food.
Now, for the commercial:
You can help. To contact Blood Bank of Hawaii, call (800) 372-9966 or go online at www.bbh.org.
You may have heard that people with tattoos, for example, or who have visited places where blood supplies have been contaminated or whose lifestyles may be associated with contaminated blood are turned away automatically. But a new era has arrived in which sensitive and probing questions by blood donor screeners — as well as enhanced testing procedure — are broadening the profile of people who can donate. All of this has occurred without compromising the safety of our blood supply.
So this is a lesson in how Kauai can accomplish something of life-saving importance, overwhelmingly on its own, guided through the process by an organization of impeccable integrity.
If you have not donated blood, you should do so as often as you can — which right now under FDA regulations is six times a year. Many already do so. Many more could.
This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s fine to pontificate and lament about our food supply. It will take quite a while to set that right. But the blood supply model is something to which we should aspire and to which nearly anyone can contribute.
Allan Parachini, a former journalist and ACLU and Los Angeles Superior Court public affairs officer, and now a furniture maker, lives in Kilauea.
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