Police run much-needed blood drive. Giving is sweet, our reporter discovers
As the clock struck noon on St. Patrick's Day, Christine Weglinski sat at police headquarters, clutching ticket number 18. She awaited her turn to fill a pint.
"I'm working toward my fourth gallon," she said, conspicuously sober. "It's liquid gold, really. Too good to keep to yourself."
Weglinski was not binge-drinking. She was about to donate around eight ounces of blood to the American Red Cross, whose workers were stationed in the upstairs conference room at police headquarters for the department's annual spring drive.
The Fairfield police got involved with the Red Cross about four years ago, when Sgt. Ed Greene obtained permission to stage a drive at headquarters. The idea had long percolated in his head, he said, ever since his mother received blood provided by the Red Cross during an emergency about 20 years ago.
"People take for granted that if they need blood, it's just there," Greene said, minutes before giving a pint himself. "But the people coming in today, volunteering their time and blood, they are the reason that it's there."
The drive ran from 11 a.m. to about 4 p.m., and the Red Cross collected 38 units of blood, said Elaine St. Peter, spokesman for the organization's Connecticut Blood Services region. Across the state, the agency needs about 650 units collected each day. These days, it obtains around 590 units on a typical day, meaning it needs to import about 10 percent of its stock from out-of-state. It hopes, through new initiatives, to recruit more drive hosts and more blood donors to make it self-sufficient, St. Peter said.
The St. Patrick's Day drive was not planned to correspond with the holiday, Greene said; it merely lined up well for both agencies. The coincidence, however, did not dampen the pool of donors. Registration was filled well beforehand and at least one walk-in volunteer was turned away. Many police department employees made donations: officers, dispatchers, secretaries, administration. The majority of the remaining spots were filled by regular donors, like Weglinksi, who last gave blood in January.
So, too, had James Petrino, a retired Fairfield police officer who worked for the department for 30 years. Petrino came with his wife, who had just been called into the donation room when he spoke to a guest.
"What's ironic is that I started working here as a policeman on St. Patrick's Day in 1969," he said, nodding toward the opposite wall, where portraits of recent police chiefs hang. Petrino had worked for all but one of them.
He first gave blood before joining the force, while working at the Manning, Maxwell and Moore factory in Stratford in the late '60s, he said. "Someone said, `Petrino, you gonna give blood?' And I said, `I don't know.' So they said, `It doesn't hurt, go for it!'"
Since then, he and his wife have donated regularly. Later on that Wednesday, he and his wife planned to visit their daughter and grandchildren in Weston to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. His wife had made a green Jello cake.
Asked if he'd celebrate further, Petrino said no. "No more bars and green beer for me," he said. "We'll have some green cabbage, though, maybe a Guinness."
Loretta Melvin, of Hamden, came down on her lunch break from Millward Brown, a research marketing firm with an office on Kings Highway East.
"I like donating blood," she said. "It's a nice way to give back. I can save three lives with one pint of blood."
Melvin said she's given blood on and off for 15 years now, and she turned the tables on this reporter when asked if it hurt.
"Have you ever given blood yourself?" she asked.
I said no and her eyes bulged.
"What's wrong with you? Sign this boy up!"
I told her the donor list was full, that it would be impossible for me to do so, even if I wanted to.
But a Red Cross volunteer said she'd squeeze in a spot for a courageous reporter. My byline challenged, I nearly agreed.
"You know, they treat first-time donors so well," Melvin said. "You get more cookies..."
I was in.
Giving a Pint:
A first-timer's confession
I first realized I wasn't holding up well when the volunteers began taking turns checking up on me. At first, I figured it was just a PR stunt.
"How ya feeling?" a man asked, who looked of authority.
I squeezed out a "good," but my face suggested otherwise.
"How about you just lay there for 10 minutes or so, until the color comes back to your face," he said.
This, at first, induced more stress.
Then Joyce, a volunteer, came to my rescue. She called across the room for a can of apple juice. That's nice, I thought, until I noticed that no one else was getting waited on. One man, I saw, who'd started giving blood after me was now waltzing out the door!
My ego shrank.
On my first attempt at standing, I made small talk with Sgt. Greene, who was on the bed behind mine having blood drawn. He was trying to give me his cell phone number for follow-up interview questions. Trying, no; he was giving me his cell phone number; I was trying to listen. Then my vision blurred and sound got fuzzy and I said, "I'm feeling flush!" Two women escorted me back to my bed.
Wet towels dropped on my face and neck, and Effie Kalfa, a strong-willed Greek woman, poked a straw into my mouth. She told me to sip lightly.
"Don't bite straw!" she said.
Kalfa helped me up the second time, and she and Joyce suggested I sit slouched for a couple minutes. I did.
"Cough," Joyce suggested. "It speeds the flow of blood back to your face; just like laughter does."
The thought had appeal, but Joyce informed me that she had no jokes to offer me. I coughed weakly for a moment, until Effie took pity.
She drew near and spoke in a hushed tone. Then she told me a dirty joke about birds that must have flushed a half-pint of blood to my face.
I stood up, less wobbly than before, and they helped me to the sweets table for the last stage in my recovery.
Francline Alexandre, 26, handed me a bag of Oreos and a can of grape juice. After a little back and forth, it emerged that this was her first time at a blood drive, too. That made me feel better. Perhaps she'd share my sense of wonderment for what I'd accomplished.
"Where you from?" I eased into my self-indulgence.
"Haiti," she said. "I signed up with the Red Cross the day after the earthquake."
Alexandre moved to America 10 years ago and she said she lost many friends in the earthquake. "After it happened, I called up the Red Cross the next day," she said. "I just wanted to help in the community. We're blessed here. When you find people who help out, willing to do everything for you, you're blessed.
"I hope God keeps blessing us," she said.
She'd recently completed a blood-drive course where she learned how to handle the light-headed like me. She seemed to have learned much. But she had much to learn from Kalfa.
Kalfa told the two of us about one blanched man who had sought refuge in privacy after donating. "I followed him all the way to the men's room," she said, her voice rising, "and he said, `You're not coming into men's room with me!' I said, `Yes I am!'"
I found this oddly comforting.
I asked Alexandre if she was nervous for the day. "No," she said, "I couldn't wait for the day to come. It's wonderful; I love it."
The influx of sugar and the jovial company was raising my spirits. Then Greene plopped down beside me.
"You saved a life today," he said.
That felt good.
"And you'll be a cheap date tonight," someone added.
So did that.