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LifeSource launches ‘door-to-donor’ program

Phlebotomist Lupe Hurtado Berwyn checks on  Mark Bussone 43 Antioch as he undergoes longer process blood donatiwhere machine harvests red blood

Phlebotomist Lupe Hurtado of Berwyn checks on  Mark Bussone, 43, of Antioch, as he undergoes a longer process of blood donation where a machine harvests the red blood cells and the blood is returned to the patient. | Frank Abderholden/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 17, 2014 1:53PM

The blood was flowing in a Lake Villa neighborhood Tuesday and there was the feeling in the air of a block party as Christal Herbst, 39, hosted a pilot program for LifeSource.

Chicagoland’s largest supplier of blood had been hit by a triple threat, the snow, cold and the holidays added up to a 30 percent drop in donations because donors couldn’t make appointments. This week, a pilot program hit the streets.

Known as the “Red Line Express,” the program presses into duty one of the company’s smaller, mobile collection vans commandeered from its fleet of mobile vans and trucks. LifeSource Executive Director Chad Douglas said the idea is simple: Instead of waiting for donors to brave the elements to arrive at one of 18 Chicagoland donor centers, the van can, instead, go right to the source.

“Our patient needs don’t change with the weather,” said Douglas, “so we need to be a little creative with meeting our blood collection goals when Mother Nature takes an unexpected turn. It’s definitely part of our future as we look for ways to make donating blood more convenient,” he said of the “door-to-donor” pilot program.

Herbst said she learned of the blood shortage through an email that was sent out by Lifesource’s Jim Fitzgerald, chief operating officer, and she contacted him. Once he learned she had an O-negative blood type, he offered to send a van over to collect her blood.

The most coveted type of blood because it can easily be converted to all blood types, O-negative is constantly in need. Herbst, who had never given blood before, liked the idea of them coming to her, except for one thing.

“It seemed kind of silly to just send the truck for me, and I said ‘Why don’t I ask some friends?’”

So she posted on Facebook that a van would be at her house in the 1100 block of Pine Tree Drive between 3 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and if anyone wanted to donate blood, she would schedule them.

“The response was unbelievable,” she said. Out of her over 500 Facebook friends, she got over 30 to schedule an appointment. She had to break out an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of them.

“Facebook is an amazing thing,” she said, “There were people I hadn’t seen in years.”

Like Nicole Bond, 39, of Grayslake, who Herbst hadn’t seen since their last high school reunion, although they talk on Facebook nearly every day. “I think it’s fantastic. What better way to get a group of people together for a good cause,” said Bond.

Sitting next to her was Mark Bussone, 43, of Antioch, who donates blood often. He chose to do the longer process where phlebotomists draw the blood into a machine that harvests the red blood cells and then pumps the blood back into the patient. This process can take 25 minutes, instead of the normal 10 minutes.

“A lot of times I go to this church in Antioch, but sometimes the hours aren’t convenient. Coming here was easy. I’d definitely do it more often,” he said.

Both donors had to wait 15 minutes after their procedures were done before they could leave, so they took that opportunity to tease Herbst as she got ready to give blood for the first time as news photographers and reporters hovered.

“Is that why you wore your boots?” said Bussone, referring to her knee-high stylish boots as her picture was taken. “You’re such a Diva,” he joked. She laughed and said she had worn them on purpose. Then she told Bussone and Bond to go sit in the comfort of her house instead of the Lifesource bus.

“We heard it’s not real clean,” joked Bussone. Bond’s two daughters were watching television there, another benefit of the pilot program is the hostess offered a place for the kids to wait.

Herbst, who is married to Jon Parkman and has two kids, got the last laugh. As her friends bid her farewell because their waiting time was up, she warned them.

“Make sure you take your kids with you!” she said as everyone laughed.

“The reward for Christal, her neighbors and friends was not only be in the donation process,” said Douglas, “but just as importantly, the sense of community it brought.”

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