Local blood supplies at critically low summer level

Ex-Pulaski basketball star, once cut badly, urges blood donations

Written by, Charles Davis, Green Bay Press-Gazette

Rod Ripley, left, and his fiancee Jennifer Born are shown in August 2011, two months after his accident. Ripley credits quick action and blood transfusions with saving his life. / Contributed photo

Summer is a time for vacations, trips to the pool and picnics. It’s also when blood supplies are at their lowest levels.

Rod Ripley is among those who know the importance of keeping up blood supplies in the summer months.

He lost half of the blood in his body last summer after suffering a severe cut to his arm while making repairs at his Madison bar. The former Pulaski High School basketball standout, who played at the University of Wisconsin in the 1980s, needed 10 pints of blood following surgery to help mend a severed artery and bicep muscle after a large mirror he was carrying broke and cut into his arm at Lucky’s Bar and Grille.

“I’m certainly appreciative of the (American) Red Cross and the people out there that take the one hour to donate blood. Those people saved my life,” he said.

Ripley received the blood he needed, but others — this year — may not be so lucky. Blood donations nationwide have dropped significantly and the blood supply has reached a critically low level, said Bobbi Snethen, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross regional blood services, which covers most of Wisconsin, eastern Iowa and Upper Michigan.

Anyone eligible to donate blood — about 38 percent of the population — is asked to give, she said. All blood types are needed, especially O-negative, O-positive, A-negative and B-negative, because those blood types can be given to more patients, Snethen said. Those eligible can donate a pint of blood once every eight weeks or up to six times a year.

Blood donations typically slow during summer and again during the winter holiday, in part because 20 percent of blood donations are gathered at high school and college blood drives, and most schools are closed during those times, Snethen said.

Donated blood is first made available to local residents in need before it is offered to patients nationwide. People diagnosed with cancer often require blood transfusions, as well as those with blood disorders or people, like Ripley, who are injured in serious accidents.

“It’s kind of a traumatic story with a really happy ending thanks to a Good Samaritan and the people who donate blood,” Snethen said.

After the injury, Ripley ran outside for help and a woman stopped to call 911 while a man later gathered towels from inside the bar to wrap Ripley’s wound to prevent bleeding.

Ripley, 47, of Waunakee, credits that move with saving his life, and the American Red Cross honored that man with an award in May.

Ripley, a father of three adult children, is still recovering from the injury, which occurred on June 25, 2011.

“I can’t hold a pen in my right hand,” he said, adding he is forced to write with his left hand and delegate some everyday tasks to friends and family. He’s hoping his recovery will be complete in about eight months, though he may always have some lingering effects from the injury.

Those who undergo a blood transfusion are not allowed to donate blood until a year after the procedure. Ripley, who says he donated blood off-and-on all his life and was raised in a family of committed blood donors, has begun speaking to others about the value of giving back. He is preparing to donate blood for the first time since the injury at a special blood drive next month in New York City.

“Simply encouraging other people to do something isn’t enough. You’ve got to get out there and do it yourself,” he said.