Timothy McDermott, an employee in the Undersea Warfare Weapons, Vehicles, and Defensive Systems Department, donates double red cell blood during a drive held in February 2019. (Photo by Jim Travassos, McLaughlin Research Corp./Released)
The R.I. Blood Center’s Bloodmobile is parked on NUWC Division Newport’s campus during a blood drive held in February. (Photo by James Travassos, McLaughlin Research Corp./Released)
In March 1983, Naval Underwater Systems Center (now NUWC) employees went through an interviewing process before making a donation. (Photo by U.S. Navy/Released)
NEWPORT, R.I. —
For almost 40 years, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport has been hosting blood drives with the Rhode Island Blood Center (RIBC), helping more than 50,000 people in the process.
NUWC was an early partner of the RIBC, established in 1979. The center conducted its first blood drive at NUWC Newport in March 1980 with 111 pints of blood donated at that event.
“Since that first drive, 18,851 donations have been made, helping 56,553 patients,” Sarah Perez of the RIBC said. “NUWC hosts one of the largest blood drives in the state and is the only Rhode Island blood drive that averages more than 100 donations per drive, six times per year.
“At the February 2019 drive, 116 blood products were collected, which means that NUWC’s drive accounted for more than half of the need that day and helped up to 348 patients!” Perez said.
The RIBC requires 200 units of blood and blood products for Rhode Islanders each day. Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood, and during major storms or disasters, that demand increases.
Perez said that NUWC’s blood drives are successful because of leadership support, a volunteer team that helps organize and facilitate the drives, and the dedication of employees who donate blood.
“All are absolutely amazing and are everyday heroes,” she said.
Since 2015 alone, NUWC Newport has donated 2,284 pints of blood, helping 6,852 people. NUWC Newport has also been one of the top state contributors for double red cell donations. Since October, employees have given 69 pints of double red cell donations, representing almost 25 percent of the total donated statewide.
NUWC Newport employee Sandy Velazquez, who has been coordinating the blood drives since October 2018, said that donations have increased significantly since the drives were relocated on campus in August 2017.
“We get a lot of walk-ins, and our numbers have been getting higher because it is convenient for people to donate without having to leave the base,” Velazquez said. “We have a really good group of volunteers that help with the drives by setting up, promoting the drives, and assisting the R.I. Blood Center staff when they arrive. Without the volunteers we would not be able to host the drives on campus, and this would have an impact on our donations.”
A whole blood donation takes 5-10 minutes, and a double red cell donation takes about 30 minutes.
“The one thing each donor experience has in common is the amazing feeling of knowing you just gave someone else a second chance at life,” Velazquez said.
Data indicates that in 2018, almost 13 percent of NUWC Newport personnel donated blood. In Rhode Island, more than 370,000 people are eligible to give blood, but only about 5 percent actually donate, according to the RIBC. People may decide not to donate because they think they will never need blood. A medical diagnosis or an emergency surgery as a result of accident can change this thought process.
After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, the RIBC was called upon to fill the need for blood, and NUWC donations helped meet that demand.
Many people think they cannot donate blood if they have certain chronic conditions, are too old, or taking medications. According to the RIBC, there is no upper age limit to donating blood. You can donate blood while taking most medications and even if you have various medical conditions. Even donors with recent tattoos can give blood if the tattoo was done at a licensed establishment in Rhode Island or in states and towns that use sterile needles and do not reuse ink.
NUWC Division Newport, part of the Naval Sea System Command, is one of two divisions of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. NUWC Division Newport’s mission is to provide research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures. NUWC’s other division is located in Keyport, Washington.