January is National Blood Donor Month, and there are plenty of opportunities for those in Athens and Limestone County to support their community by participating.
The holiday season usually means a decrease in blood donations, even as holiday travel can mean an increase in the patients who need them.
"A lot of our regular donors ... they're out traveling and spending time with family, and there's a lot going on, so they can't donate as much as they normally would," said Eric Franchois, who serves as LifeSouth's district community development coordinator in North Alabama.
Franchois said they also face fewer places to host a drive. Schools are out for winter vacations, companies are busy planning holiday events, and retail parking lots don't have the space for a Bloodmobile and the vehicles of holiday shoppers.
That's why the annual National Blood Donor Month and the month that follows are so important.
"January and February are kind of catchup months to get us back in a good place," Franchois said.
LifeSouth serves 14 major hospitals throughout North Alabama, including Athens-Limestone, Madison, Huntsville and Decatur-Morgan hospitals.
"All the blood we collect stays here in North Alabama," Franchois said. "If all our needs are met, then we can share with other locations outside North Alabama."
Donations can be done in multiple ways, such as whole blood, which is the most common; apheresis, in which only plasma, platelets or red blood cells are taken; and double red cell, which is most commonly recommended for patients with Type O blood. Donations can take up to two hours, but most are only 30-45 minutes.
Donors must be at least 17 years old (16 with parent's permission), weigh at least 110 pounds and pass a pre-donation screening that will ask about sexual activity, medical history and medications. Donors are encouraged to eat well and stay hydrated to reduce side effects from donation.
"Everyone reacts differently to blood donation," Franchois said. "Some have no problem even on their first time donating blood because your body is reacting naturally to losing a pint of blood. Some get lightheaded, dizzy, or feel really fatigued for the rest of the day."
Franchois said a lot of people think certain diagnoses or activities will disqualify them from donating, but it isn't always the case. For example, donors with diabetes or high blood pressure can donate as long as it is under control and they have not been advised against it by their doctor.
"We do have a medicine list we have donors review just to make sure they aren't on anything that might affect the blood itself," Franchois said.
Those with tattoos or piercings can also donate, even if the body modification occurred the day of the donation.
"You can get a tattoo that morning and donate that afternoon as long as (you get your tattoo) at a licensed parlor," he said. "Now, if you get it at a friend's house, we make you wait 12 months."
Anyone with questions about their eligibility can visit lifesouth.org or call 1-888-795-2707 for more information.
Those who are eligible and choose to donate can receive additional thank-yous, too. January donors will receive a free T-shirt with a colorful toucan and the words "If I Can, Toucan Too!" Some blood drives — such as Thursday's drive at the Athens Walmart — include $10 gift cards or other gifts.
LifeSouth donations can be made at any of the following times and locations during the month of January:
• 4:30–6:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at Dollar General Market in Ardmore;
• Noon–5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12, at the Hunter Bauer Memorial Blood Drive at First Baptist Church in Athens;
• Noon–6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, at the Athens Walmart;
• 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, at Big Lots in Athens;
• 9 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19, at Church of the Living God in Elkmont;
• 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 20, at Hometown Grocery on South Jefferson Street in Athens;
• Noon–4:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, at Limestone Flea Market in Madison-annexed Limestone County;
• 9 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, at Pratt & Whitney on Alabama 20 in Madison-annexed Limestone County;
• Noon–4:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, at Cumberland Center in Ardmore; and
• Noon–5:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, at Hometown Grocery.
Additional locations and times can be found at lifesouth.org under "Find A Blood Drive."