Dragon Con Blood Drive 2008
by Dr. Alan Koslow, MD
THS first started sponsoring the Robert Heinlein pay it forward blood drive at Dragon Con in 2003. From the very first year it has been our biggest success, thanks to the great support of the convention and the wonderful staff of LifeSouth. This year the goal was very ambitious: to more than double the number of units from last year’s drive (319), which was already the biggest year we’d had there so far.
In order to make this possible, Life South had no other blood drives scheduled in the Atlanta area for this 4-day period, and they brought in 40 technicians from four states to help. The drive had posted hours of Friday-Sunday 10 AM – 7 PM, Monday 9 AM-3 PM.
There were three volunteers from the Heinlein society, Scott Mealy, Michael Booker and myself, Dr. Alan Koslow. Scott and I worked the full time that the drive was on for at least 35 hours each of volunteering. Mike worked a large part of Sunday and Monday.
My strategy was to make this a competition. We would challenge the Dragon Con attendees to see if they could exceed the numbers from Comic-Con International’s Robert Heinlein blood drive, a venerable drive that has been running for over 30 years now. Just 5 weeks earlier, the San Diego Blood Bank had collected 856 units of blood there. Could the fans at Dragon Con match those numbers? An especially daunting task given that the attendance at Dragon Con is only about 25-30% that of Comic-Con.
The convention staff was exceptionally supportive. The track directors allowed me to make announcements at the start of any and all panels I requested. I made announcements at over 40 panels that each had over 1000 attendees and some as many as 4000, getting to almost every attendee several times. We also had 14 recruiters from Life South that walked the convention and promoted the drive, the most flamboyant being David who was dressed variously as Captain Jack Sparrow, Darth Elvis and Sweeney Todd, the Mad Barber of Fleet Street. I lost my voice to the drive and got lots of attention by calling out, “Blood drive. Donate today, save a tee-shirt and get a life,” while holding up a blood drive tee shirt (the best one ever). It got a laugh and made the people remember. Also I was pushing the fact that we were trying to surpass Comic-Con’s numbers when I spoke at the beginning of the panels. The last two days I could not walk 10 feet without someone asking me if we had succeeded. I would be surprised if less than 90% of con goers knew about the blood drive.
Another enticement to donate was the array of goodies being given out. Everyone who registered to donate was entered in a raffle for a dozen prizes we had. All successful donors received a great Dragon Con blood drive t-shirt, a Sci-Fi blood donation pin designed by Robert Heinlein and a blood donation ribbon for their badge (at least, until we ran out).
During the weekend, evacuation of 4 states was started because of hurricane Gustav. Several of the staff had their families evacuated and were not able to join them immediately and help with the evacuation or go to the evacuation centers to which they had been sent.
Eight of the techs were able to return on Sunday to their families to help with evacuation, but this left us short of techs on Sunday and Monday, resulting in longer delays to donate and a lower total than might have otherwise been achieved.
I heard from the fans that the blood bank workers were the friendliest they ever encountered (despite most of them being away from their families on a holiday weekend and working very long shifts with only 10 minutes to inhale their lunch). The Blood Bank workers consistently said the fans (donors) were the happiest, funnest and friendliest they ever worked with (despite sometimes having to miss panels because the blood drive got backed up). Here are some representative samples of these fans:
One female fan came to donate because of Gustav. She lives in New Orleans and just wanted to help.
On Monday we had the first 16 year old ever to be a blood donor in the state of Georgia.
One well dressed mature woman had mishap when they took her off the IV and her whole shirt got sprayed with blood. Instead of being angry, she smiled and said, “Well, I now fit in with everyone else in costume.”
And when the final numbers came in, they exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. 1,165 individuals registered to donate blood, 938 of them successfully donated, 75 of them double red donations using the ALYX machines, for a total of 1,013 units collected, making this the single largest blood drive ever at an SF related convention. 20 people were even able to donate platelet aphaeresis, which to the best of my knowledge is a first at an SF convention.
These numbers do not include many people that came to donate and were pre-screened out before registering due to recent travel, tattoos, etc. or who were simply unable to wait long enough due to their convention schedules. This was easily 3-400 additional people who will likely be back to try again next year. LifeSouth plans to have even more resources and space available then, and is hoping to double the numbers from this year.