By MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Wanting to help is a common Iowa reaction to a tragedy like the bombing in Boston. Just be sure, say helper agencies, your efforts really are helpful.
The desire to help is natural and commendable, says an expert at the Poynter Institute for journalism.
Al Tompkins warns that the desire to help often results not in needed supplies but “warehouses full of flowers and unwanted teddy bears.”
For example, there was a desperate need for blood in Boston after the explosions. With help from Ottumwans and other donors in the region, they received some of that supply.
”The patients who were injured yesterday in Boston were treated, and they did need blood. A lot of blood,” said Kirby Winn, spokesman for the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center, which includes the Ottumwa blood bank. “It depleted their supply quite a bit. What happened with our blood center was that the hospitals in Boston put out a national appeal for blood.”
With a reported 176 people injured, 17 critical, Mississippi Valley was able to send Boston 120 units of blood.
“Especially O negative, A positive and B positive. Those are the three that were needed to help the most people,” Winn said.
The Iowans who helped won’t be the ones who rush to give blood now; in fact, a massive rush of new donors would not be helpful right now. The people who really helped are the regular donors from places like Boston and Ottumwa.
“It was the people who gave last week,” said Winn. “One thing we heard about was the public’s idea of giving blood, the desire to do something. But we do not want to see an influx of donors here. We know that people in Ottumwa want to help the people in Boston. But if all of a sudden, we had a lot of people show up, it would essentially expire on the shelf.”
And, in a few weeks, when Wapello County and surrounding areas needed blood, the donors would be drained and the supply would be no good.
“We are not low, and the critical injury patients have been treated. We were glad to be a part of it,” Winn said. “We still need the appointments to keep going, so the blood supply stays in balance and is available. The main lesson we take from this [tragedy] is it’s the blood on the shelf that counts.”
The Red Cross has been giving instructions and suggestions to its local chapters.
“There’s been a request for disaster assistance in the form of mental health professionals and nurses,” said Brandon Holstrom, response coordinator and manager of the Southern Prairie Chapter of the American Red Cross, located in Ottumwa.
The Ottumwa office can still help out. Professionals who find themselves with time on their hands and a desire to make a difference may be able to coordinate through Holstrom.
“They’re the first people we send to a disaster, mental health, along with nurses,” he said.