Blood Collectors Week: New Beginnings

August 17th 2016, a day I vividly remember.  I was about to embark on a new journey in my career.  I had accepted a position with LifeShare Blood Centers as the Center Manager in Baton Rouge.  I was feeling excited, nervous, anxious, and of course a bit sad to be leaving Our Lady of the Lake.  I’m not a big TV watcher, but that morning I was attempting to listen to the weather while I was packing for what was supposed to be a four-day trip to Shreveport for orientation and training.  With all of the emotions going on that morning, I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard there was a major breaking news story.  There was a mass shooting in Baton Rouge, six police officers had been shot and were in route to local hospitals.  

When you’ve worked in a hospital for twenty-four years and a major tragedy happens, you just automatically shift into a different gear.  Anyone who’s passionately worked in that kind of setting will know what I mean.  For me, even though the adrenaline starts pumping and my mind starts going in every different direction, a wave of calm washes over me.  You start thinking of what needs to be done, then I remembered…I don’t work for OLOL anymore… today is Sunday and Friday was my last day. Shortly after, I received a call from LifeShare.  The BR center was closed that day but there was a blood drive going on at Wal-Mart in Walker (20 miles away). 

It didn’t take long for the community to respond.  Phone calls started to come in to the center, people wanted to donate blood.  A line quickly started to form outside of the bus.  The decision was made to open the Baton Rouge donor center at 1pm.  I arrived at the center 20 minutes after it opened and a line was already forming.  Several members of the BR team had been called in to work.  When I walked inside, I was immediately greeted and asked if I’d like to donate.  I didn’t have a name badge yet, most of the team had only seen me once at a Town Hall the week before.  I quickly explained who I was and jumped in to help.  The team was already hard at work as donors continued to walk in.  It always seems with any tragedy people will calmly wait.  It may be that the enormity of the situation hadn’t truly had time to sink in yet, but most will just wait their turn with no complaint at all.  It didn’t matter how long the line was, they just continued to wait.  The team worked hard to try to get them in and out.  As the new manager, I was able to get a good look at how this team (my team) responded in the wake of a tragedy.  They never complained, they thanked the donors for donating and for their time.  I took more supplies out to the Wal-Mart blood drive.  When I arrived there was a line of at least 30 people waiting.  A Wal-Mart employee had iced down bottles of water and was walking down the line handing them out to the donors waiting in the July heat.  The mobile team worked hard to process all of the donors who calmly waited in line, staying several hours past the projected end time of the mobile.  At the end of the day, the Baton Rouge team saw over 120 donors that day.  We were able to give the community an opportunity to “give back”.  Many that I spoke to said “I just feel like I need to do something.”  

In the days that followed, people continued to come in and donate.  We had calls from area businesses wanting to schedule last-minute drives.  We even conducted a drive at the Governor’s Office.  The team took it all in stride, didn’t complain that their schedule was changed several times and that most of the drives had more than doubled in projection.  I like to think that in the wake of a devastating tragedy, sometimes we can see the true heart and soul of a great community emerge…which in turn can bring an entire team closer.

Stephanie Duplessis
Center Manager – Baton Rouge
LifeShare Blood Centers
SCABB District Director III (AR, LA, MS)
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