By Mike Harris & Lindsey G. Reed
Jay Gruden, the new Redskins coach, knows a good deal when he sees one.
For about an hour of his time, Gruden received some juice and a couple of cookies as well as a t-shirt.
What he gave in return was considerably more valuable.
A pint of Gruden’s blood was the most famous of the 407 units Inova Blood Donor Services collected during a drive at Redskins Park in April, though the other 406 were equally as important.
“It was painless. This is really an easy process, not hard at all,” Gruden told Fox5 in Washington after making his donation.
The Redskins, Capitals and Nationals generally operate in different worlds professionally. Their sports, their venues and, for the most part, their core fan bases are different.
But the teams do have things in common, most notably “Washington” in front of their nicknames and a strong belief that contributing in the community is extremely important. To that end, they’ve partnered with Inova Blood Donor Services to sponsor blood drives to help the organization meet a demand that never goes away.
Those who are eligible to donate have a place available to do so every day of the year. Inova has four fixed centers and also operates a number of mobile units. On an average day, 200 units are collected, said Terri Craddock, Inova Blood Donor Services' director.
Even the smaller drives sponsored by a team more than double that. The Redskins set a goal of 400 units for their April drive and collected 407, including Gruden’s.
The Nationals, who have the next team-sponsored drive scheduled for June 7, set a one-day record with 731 units last on June 15, 2013 and they hope to break that this time. They’ve already filled 800 available slots and have a waiting list.
The Capitals regularly collect between 600-700 units per drive.
“It is one of the more successful promotions we run here,” said Jenna Romanoff, the Capitals’ partnerships marketing manager who helps Inova with three drives each year.
“It is kind of a no-brainer to me. It is tapping into what fans are passionate about. It is supporting their team and they want to support them out in the community. This is a local system and it is great that you are donating to help local folks within your community.”
Said Scott Shepherd, the Redskins’ vice president of sales and marketing, “These events are literally saving lives. Our fans are helping their neighbors, people they live with and work with and play with.”
Like the Redskins know football, the Capitals know hockey and the Nationals know baseball, Inova Blood Donor Services knows blood.
The organization services 22 local hospitals. It is a lot of work to keep the supplies at the necessary levels on a daily basis, so the help Inova gets from the local teams is very much appreciated.
“The partnerships help because the individual sports teams have the ability to reach out to a large number of fans and drive them to the blood drive locations,” Craddock said.
Only 37 percent of the population is eligible to give blood on a given day, said Rebecca Manarchuck, Inova Blood Donor Services’ marketing manager. People must wait approximately eight weeks between donations for whole blood. Factors such as medical history may limit others.
“The percentage of healthy Americans who actually donate is five percent,” Manarchuck said.
If that number goes up by a mere one percent, it helps. Team-sponsored drives can make that happen.
Inova knows the shelf life for blood is only 42 days, so the need is there to constantly replenish. What is collected doesn’t go to waste but it doesn't last forever.
Almost all of the blood is used locally, though Craddock said her organization will help out another area if they have a shortage and Inova happens to have a surplus.
“The first priority is to take care of our local hospitals,” Craddock said. “Most of our blood does stay local. If we get in a situation where we have a surplus of one particular type and there is a hospital in another area of the country that needs that type, we will definitely ship that to them instead of letting it expire on the shelf.
“Typically, blood does not expire on the shelf. Most of the time it is transfused. We need to constantly be replenishing our supplies and collecting at least 200 units every day to meet the needs of our patients in the Northern Virginia and Washington metropolitan area.”
Inova Blood Donor Services has partnered with the Capitals since 2008, the Nationals since 2010 and the Redskins since last year. They are open to exploring a partnership with the Wizards in the future, Craddock said.
The teams say Inova Blood Donor Services has proven to be a good partner for them. The Capitals’ Romanoff said fans are now signing up for all three of the team’s drives at once. They’ve learned it is painless and beneficial – and perhaps most important, efficient. Inova understands time is valuable.
“It is like a well-oiled machine,” she said. “They get people in and out, people leave happy. That is important, to make sure it is a positive experience for them.”
From a personal standpoint, the importance of giving blood hit home in March. There was no t-shirt this time and no bobblehead, but instead something more valuable: a note from a young mother thanking me for being a life-saver.
The first time I gave blood was at Kettler Capitals IcePlex on Jan. 4. It took about an hour. I was given a Jay Beagle bobblehead and t-shirt. It was quick, efficient and painless, so much so that I immediately signed up to donate again on March 1.
A business trip made me miss that drive, which turned out to be a good thing. Less than two weeks later, I found out the young flower girl at my son’s upcoming wedding needed open-heart surgery. My blood type matched hers, something I wouldn’t have known had I not donated on Jan. 4. I went and made a directed donation for the beautiful flower girl.
The blood helped. She’s recovering and will be able to dance at the wedding with her daddy, with my son and with me.
That I know and love this child makes that a huge deal. But knowing that an hour or so of my time every two months along with a pint of my blood can help anybody in that fashion is a feeling that can’t adequately be described.
It doesn’t matter if it is my blood, if it is Jay Gruden’s blood, if it is your blood. That it is there when needed is what matters. That the Caps, the Nats and the Redskins are doing what they can to help the supply and create new donors is what matters.
Now that summer is upon us, the need for blood grows. People go on vacation and schools are out of session. The summer and holiday periods are tougher on collections, Craddock said.
But the need doesn’t know the calendar.
“We need to make sure that we’re keeping a steady supply coming in 365 days a year,” Craddock said.
To that end, the Nats appear to have an excellent chance to break their record on June 7. They filled the 800 available slots in less than 24 hours and the waiting list should take care of any late cancellations.
The Redskins are planning a July drive around a theme of Road Trip to Richmond as they prepare for training camp in Virginia’s capital city. The Caps have another drive before summer is over, where a Joel Ward bobblehead will be given away. The Nationals also have another drive this summer.
But while the team-sponsored drives are nice, donors can give somewhere every day. A visit to www.inova.org/donateblood provides locations of the donor centers and information on where mobile units are scheduled to be (not all are open to the public).
There’s even an app for that. Donors can download an app for their phone (Visit inovablood.com on your smart phone to download) that provides information on where and how to donate along with reminders when it is time to donate again.
Inova Blood Donor Services makes it as easy as possible.
“These folks at Inova have it down to a science. We’ve been doing this now for going on five years. It has gotten bigger every year,” said John Knebel, the Nationals’ vice president of corporate partnerships for the Nationals. “It is something we’re proud of and something we take seriously.
“At the end of the day, we’re a highly visible professional sports franchise. We really are in a unique position to help the community. As you know, sports unify the region. There comes a responsibility with that and we welcome it. (The drives) are impactful, a chance to help and do the right thing.
“It saves lives.”