Home LIFESTYLE A push for Black residents to donate blood is growing in a...

A push for Black residents to donate blood is growing in a Hartford brewery. Here’s why that’s a need in Connecticut.

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On Wednesday, Hartford Hospital looks for people to volunteer to donate blood at the drive on Hudson Street. (Douglas Hook / Hartford Courant)

Ed Stannard
Hartford Courant

Geanna Jarosz, events coordinator for Hog River Brewing, isn’t content to serve beer out of the small taproom tucked in the rear of 1429 Park St. in Hartford.

She wants “Hartford’s Living Room” to be a catalyst to help bring more Black people, as well as those of other ethnic groups, to donate much-needed blood.

“We have this space and this platform where people in the community are coming over and over again,” Jarosz said. “Why not bring it up in the space and let them spread it that way?”

So while she pours a Parkville Lager, a Thingalingaling Sour or an Ask Your Mother Double IPA, Jarosz is thinking of ways to make Hog River a social force in the city.

She plans her Soulful Sundays at the brewery from 2 to 5 p.m. starting Oct. 23 and running until April, featuring six to 10 women and Black vendors, and her plan is to hold a blood drive in November, to encourage Black people, who historically do not give blood in large numbers, to donate. She wants vendors who will draw people in, as a way to spread the word about blood donation.

“I feel like there’s not enough common places in Hartford where everyone goes,” Jarosz said.

She said she plans to give the blood to the Connecticut Blood Center because it supplies blood to Hartford Hospital, keeping it in the local community.

“Geanna had reached out to us … with the idea of running a blood drive and it was impressive because she had some general knowledge that those with diverse backgrounds weren’t donating at the same rate as those identified as white or Caucasian,” said Jonathan DeCasanova, spokesman for the Connecticut Blood Center, which opened in October 2021 in the Middletown Plaza, 856 Washington St. It’s operated by the Rhode Island Blood Center.

It’s an important issue because, along with a general shortage of blood in the country, there are people who need blood from those of their own race, since their blood cells are slightly different from other groups, said DeCasanova, who oversees recruiting donors and blood drives. Donations can be scheduled at the center on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and every other weekend.

“It comes down to genetics — heredity and genetics,” said Jill Alberigo, director of laboratory and special services for the Rhode Island center.

“There’s a lot of other proteins on the surface of your red cells,” she said. If there are incompatible red cells in the blood, the proteins, called antigens, will summon antibodies.

“It will destroy them … it will burst them and that can be toxic,” Alberigo said.

This is why blood types A, B, AB and O, whether positive or negative, must be compatible (O-negative is the universal donor for red cells and AB-positive is the universal recipient; others must match). The Rh factor, whether positive or negative, also matters. Type AB is the universal donor for plasma.

But there are subgroups as well, which are related to race.

“If you’re from a certain race, you share those certain genetic codes,” Alberigo said. “Anyone in the general population could have a rare type.”

All blood from Black donors also is screened for the trait for sickle cell disease, and blood that can be given to those patients is stored separately.

DeCasanova said the blood center does everything from collecting blood, to screening it, separating red cells, plasma and platelets, and supplying it to hospitals, including Middlesex, Connecticut Children’s, Windham and Backus. The center does not transfuse blood to patients.

With donations low in general, the shortage of Black donors is even more apparent, according to Jocelyn Hillard, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross’ Connecticut and Rhode Island Region, based in Farmington.

“In June, the Red Cross collected approximately 12% fewer blood donations than needed to sustain a sufficient blood supply — one of the largest blood donation shortfalls in a single month in recent years,” Hillard wrote in an email.

The American Red Cross declared a blood crisis in January, when the omicron variant of COVID-19 began to increase.

“While the reason for low blood donation rates for individuals who are Black is currently unknown, studies on demographic patterns of blood donors hypothesize distrust of the health care system, a higher proportion of blood donor ineligibility and different motivators and barriers to blood donation as possible contributing factors,” she wrote.

“The Red Cross needs blood donors of all races and ethnicities to help ensure a diverse blood supply to support the blood transfusion needs of patients,” Hillard wrote.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the Black community hard, “deterred many donors from giving, and the cancellation of drives at educational institutions and businesses, where most of these donors give, has caused the number of Black individuals who give blood to drop by about half.”

Also, Black people are more likely to have type O blood than white people — half of all Black people are type O. O-positive is the most transfused blood type, while O-negative, being the universal donor type, is often in short supply, Hillard said.

The pandemic has reduced the number of blood drives, so Jarosz feels compelled to get the word out.

“I think it’s just a lack of information out there,” she said. “When I was growing up, I felt like blood drives in your town were in your face. But now, when I bring it up in the taproom, they were not aware there was a blood shortage.”

Next spring, Hog River will be moving nearby to a building next to the Parkville Market, where there will be more room — and it will be easier to find.

Sue Lynch, supervisor of donor services at the Rhode Island center, recently participated in a blood drive at Hartford Hospital. She’s been working with the center for 40 years, doing everything from purchasing to driving a forklift to paternity testing.

“It’s just a positive type of atmosphere,” she said of the blood drives, which now feature lounge chairs rather than hard tables.

“Any time that you see a tragedy happening in the world or in your own personal world, whether a family member is ill or there’s been an accident, oftentimes it’s going to call for blood,” Lynch said. “The blood supply is such an important part of people’s lives.”

Too often, people give blood when there’s a sudden need, then forget to return to give more, Lynch said, even though “99 percent of the time people say, this was so easy.”

One time, her daughter needed three units of blood. “I was standing there and they said, ‘OK, we’re going to give you some blood.’ … I was all choked up. I could have collected that from somebody.”

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