SOLON– Student Brianna Pike is a rare type.
The Solon High School senior was recognized on Monday, March 10, when she donated blood with the University of Iowa DeGowin Blood Center for the eighth time in two years. Having given a collective gallon of blood before leaving high school, Brianna is now officially a Gallon Grad, earning her a red cord upon graduation and a distinction even more significant: she is the first among Solon students to achieve the status, and also the first ever at the DeGowin Blood Center.
DeGowin conducts blood drives in area high schools when schools are in session, and come to Solon High School once each fall and spring. Donors become eligible at the age of 16 with parental consent, and because students typically turn 16 in the spring of their sophomore year, that only gives them five opportunities to give blood during DeGowin’s visits.
“That means, in order to donate eight times, students have to go out in the community and either find other blood drives we are at, or visit the DeGowin Blood Center on their own,” said DeGowin Blood Drive Coordinator Heather Roman. “So they really have to take that initiative, to say ‘I want this,’ and go out and find other avenues to make the donation possible.”
It was a challenge Brianna took seriously.
High School social studies teacher, Todd Kopecky– also the Octagon Club advisor– has been DeGowin’s liaison in organizing the blood drives at school. He and Octagon Club members get out the word about upcoming blood drives through posters, promotional information and notes in the bulletin, and by walking around and encouraging students to donate.
“One unit can save up to three lives,” Kopecky tells them. “Think about how many lives you’re saving.”
Brianna didn’t need convincing, Kopecky recalled.
“She is just the kind of kid who would want to take this opportunity,” said Kopecky. “I remember when Heather came and presented the idea of the Gallon Grad, and I did the math. It was easy to see that a lot of my kids were close to it, but Brianna was one who said, ‘I really want to do this. What do I do to make this happen?’”
Roman worked out a schedule with Brianna, also enlisting Brianna’s mother Lori Pike, to make the required number of donations before this May. It isn’t as easy as it might sound; there is an eight week time period that must lapse between blood donations, each donation takes about 45 minutes to complete, and donations must be successful with a full, healthy unit drawn each time. A low hematocrit count or even the presence of cold or flu symptoms can derail the donation attempt.
“It is a big commitment to try and get this award,” said Roman. “Solon is one of our more successful high school drives, especially in comparison to the size of the school and our donor population. It’s the students and staff here that make these drives successful.”
Brianna’s commitment had to be above average, though, in order for her to attain Gallon Grad status.
“I was giving at school already, but once I found out I could earn a red cord I actually took time to go the hospital and donate more often,” said Brianna. “I think I’m really saving lives.”
She speaks with firsthand knowledge; a neighbor she knows and a cousin of hers both needed blood and platelet transfusions. “That just inspired me to continue to give more.”
Mother Lori Pike said Brianna’s efforts have motivated herself, and hopefully others.
“I just think her dedication has been remarkable, and if she can inspire other kids to save lives by donating blood, that’s a really cool thing.”
Brianna has even talked a few friends into donating; her cousin in Texas will also earn a red cord soon.
“I tell them it doesn’t hurt that bad,” Brianna said with a giggle, as Kopecky handed her a red satin cord and a local television station caught it on tape for the nightly news. “And who doesn’t like to save lives?”
For more information about donating blood or platelets, visit www.uihealthcare.org/bloodcenter. To make a donation appointment, contact the UI DeGowin Blood Center at 319-356-2058. To sponsor a blood drive for your organization, call 319-356-8327.