Rodney Lapoint was one of a few hundred people to donate blood Thursday during a blood drive that's more critical now than ever as Tropical Storm Barry crawls toward the Louisiana coast.
Lapoint, 54, occasionally donates blood because he has seen firsthand how valuable it is while deployed in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as a sergeant in the U.S. Army.
"It saves lives," the Duson resident said. "I've seen it personally as a veteran where blood donations on the battlefield made a difference."
The 11th annual Race Against the Clock marathon blood drive kicked off Thursday and continues Friday at Vitalant, formerly United Blood Services.
About 680 to 700 pints of blood are collected during the annual event, which is only enough to sustain south Louisiana hospitals for less than three days.
"We have to collect about 250 donations a day to sustain our patients," said Mitzi Breaux, marketing and communications manager of Vitalant. "So this will help us get through the next two days and Monday."
The marathon blood drive happens in July because there is an increased demand for blood in the summer and a decrease in donations made. The event lures extra donors in with meals, freebies and a chance to win prizes.
"I'm just amazed by how many people are here," said Flossie Turner, 68, after donating blood Thursday. "I've never been to this event before. I didn't expect it to be this overwhelming of a turnout."
The event's success is even more critical now that Tropical Storm Barry, which is forecast to become a hurricane, is nearing the coast.
"Over the last 24 hours, the vital importance of this blood drive has become even more apparent," Breaux said. "It's not only going to help us replenish our blood supplies, but it's going to help us get through this storm."
Even if Barry doesn't hit Acadiana directly, the blood supply will likely be even lower than it typically is at this time of year.
The blood donation center in Morgan City will be closed Friday and through the weekend because of the storm, and the donation centers in Lafayette and Baton Rouge will likely be closed Saturday, according to Breaux. These closings and the cancellations of planned blood drives this weekend will further deplete the supply.
Even outside of the summer months, local blood donations aren't enough to supply Acadiana's hospitals, which also rely on shipments from other states to meet the demand, Breaux said. Local donations become even more critical ahead of natural disasters as out-of-state donations stall due to canceled flights.
Breaux especially encourages young adults to donate blood — not just during the marathon but regularly throughout the year.
About 60 percent of the current donor base is 40 or older, she said, and about half of those donors are 50 or older. The aging donor base can't donate as often or, sometimes, at all.
"We're kind of pleading to that 25 to 45 age group of folks to start making blood donations a regular part of their lives because we're going to need them to fill the shoes of the baby boomers," Breaux said. "It's not one and done. It's a lifelong commitment that helps sustain our blood supply. If that group doesn't step up, it's going to cause some serious healthcare issues in the future."
The marathon blood donation event continues from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at 1503 Bertrand Drive. Learn more at vitalant.org/LAF-Marathon-blood-drive.