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TVI student dedicated to blood

Martin serves as local United Blood Services courier

TVI student Shae Martin devotes most of her time shuttling blood to city hospitals and shipping it statewide.

Martin works in the hospital services division of the United Blood Services. With airline flights to small cities in the Southwest recently reduced, Martin said blood deliveries to smaller hospitals in New Mexico take more time.

All flights to Hobbs, N.M., were cancelled late last year and flights to other New Mexico cities such as Roswell, Alamogordo and Clovis are so infrequent that hospital services representatives looked to reliable, but slower, alternative transportation for blood supplies.

Martin and her co-workers are responsible for restocking hospital blood units and delivering needed blood units during emergencies, throughout New Mexico, southern Colorado and eastern Arizona. Martin said the non profit organization now relies on slower transportation for most of its deliveries.

"If you ride the Greyhound bus from Albuquerque, you are probably riding with donated blood," Martin said. "We use the bus because it dependably leaves at the same time everyday."

Most of Martin's daily schedule involves delivery of donated blood units to Albuquerque hospitals. Several times in a workday, she also delivers blood units to the Albuquerque International Sunport or the Greyhound Bus Station for shipment to other cities and towns, driving 50 to 100 miles a day. She compares the cycle to those who stock fresh milk at grocery stores because blood has an expiration date similar to those imposed by the Food and Drug Administration on dairy products.

The shelf life of a single unit of donated blood is 42 days. Unused blood units are returned to United Blood Services, where they are incinerated. The value is credited equally towards the purchase of fresh blood units for that particular hospital.

A barely sufficient amount of donations keeps Hospital Services in the middle of a blood tug-of-war between several hospitals.

"The hardest part of my job is deciding which hospitals really need blood, and which ones are stocking up just in case," said Martin, during a day of deliveries in the new United Blood Services car. "Everyday I go through this, but you can't predict an emergency."

Martin attends biology and chemistry classes at Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute, which are some of the prerequisites she must have before entering the Medical Laboratory Technology Program at TVI. She plans to work as a blood bank supervisor, then go on to medical school.

"I have always known I was smart enough for it," she said.

During most days, Martin, 23, labels blood units and takes blood stock requests from several hospitals. She begins her deliveries around 4 p.m., she said.

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Albuquerque has several United Blood Services donation centers in Albuquerque that send all their blood units to the organization's office at University and Indian School, the only center in the state that distributes human blood.

Hospital Services is open 24 hours a day, and someone in the office is always ready to deliver blood to any hospital in town. Martin said out-of-town emergencies are more complicated. She said Mesa Airlines or the New Mexico State Police are called if emergency blood units can't be delivered in the United Blood Services car quickly enough.

"We understand how fast we can do it," she said. "The doctors only understand how fast they need it."

Last Christmas, New Mexico State Police relayed emergency blood units to Durango, Colo., she said. It still took three hours, she said.

"It feels good to be a part of such an effort," Martin said.

During the Cerro Grande Fire, Martin delivered blood units to Los Alamos Medical Center. Although the fire caused no serious injuries, she said the hospital took precautions and stocked up on extra blood. With all Los Alamos residents evacuated, Martin saw the effects of the fire everyone was forbidden inside the city limits.

"I felt real important," she said. "The whole hospital was run by GI's, and I was one of the only civilians in the whole town."

Blood units are packaged and sold by the pint. Each pint of blood costs a hospital $99. They are stored on trays in huge refrigerators along one wall of the office. They are delivered in wax-lined cardboard boxes containing ice packs. While she packaged blood units during the day, Martin covered every box with many yards of strong tape. Sometimes the blood units break open, but they never leak through the box, she said.

"Some couriers won't deliver for us because we are sending human blood," she said. "I think they see it as a health risk even though we never had a problem."

Once a donation is taken, a small sample of the blood is sent to Tempe, Ariz., to test for disease. Every unit comes with a separate small tube that is also filled with blood from the donor. The tubes are labeled and then shipped for testing, which include searches for hepatitis, syphilis and AIDS. The test results are sent back to Albuquerque within 24 hours.

Four years ago, Martin started at United Blood Services as an interviewer. She said her worst experience at United Blood Services occurred during an interview with a potential donor. The person refused to answer a question she asked about HIV. The person began screaming and crying, Martin said.

"It turned out this person had recently tested HIV-positive," she said. "I think she was very angry and frustrated."

Following that experience, Martin is just happier transporting blood.

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