UWO blood drive draws more donors

Neal Hogden and Michael Johrendt

In accordance with the UW Oshkosh Athletics Department, the Community Blood Center brought its mobile blood drive unit to UW Oshkosh Saturday. Students, faculty and Oshkosh community members helped donate for a cause at Kolf Sports Center throughout the day.

Community Blood Center employee Zach Pammer, who helped run the event by aiding with the donation bus, said the turnout from students is important in helping the event gain popularity.

“You just look at [how] one pint helps saves up to three lives, [and] just that factor alone goes a long way,” Pammer said. “One of the things that really benefits for the people [is that] you get to find out your blood type, you do a bunch of screening and testing so it’s like an additional mini-physical. You don’t have to pay for it. You come here and you’re helping save lives and you really do feel like part of the community because everything here stays in the community.”

This blood drive has received a higher level of importance ever since former UWO starting quarterback Brett Kasper and Phoenix Bridegroom created a lifelong connection.

Back in 2014, the UWO football team and Be the Match, the world’s largest bone marrow registry for pairing donors and cancer patients together, connected and created a relationship that culminated in Kasper becoming a match for Bridegroom.

Toward the end of 2014, Kasper went through with the donation process and his donation went to Bridegroom, who is currently in remission.

Be the Match’s community engagement representative Kelli VanderWielen was instrumental in the eventual meeting between the Bridegrooms and the Kaspers in November 2016 and has been very important to the constant presence of both Be the Match and the Community Blood Center at UWO.

VanderWielen said the turnout for this event has only increased due to the popularity surrounding the situation with Bridegroom and Kasper.

“The story of Brett and Phoenix is so very inspirational and people can put a face [to it] and you know a true experience alongside of the need,” VanderWielen said. “When people can know that they’re helping others just like Phoenix and also supporting people like Brett who so selflessly gave part of himself to help save Phoenix, it really puts everything into perspective. We’re just so grateful to the coaches, the athletes, Brett Kasper of course and coach [Pat] Cerroni for their support because their influence has greatly deepened the amount of impact we are able to make on campus because of this amazing story.”

Pammer said the relationship created between the community and potential donors reached its peak when the Bridegroom and Kasper families created a lasting bond over Phoenix and Brett.

“I mean I think it definitely heightens it and it gives people more motivation,” Pammer said. “To see that and be like, ‘Wow you can directly help somebody just like that.’ Brett’s was more through kind of Be The Match, but even a simple donation like whole blood and taking five to 10 minutes out of your day. He did the bone marrow, which is more heightened and more intense, but it just shows you the significance of that and how far it does go. I think it really helps boost the awareness so people can see it and then they’re like, ‘Wow, I really do have the time to take the time out of my schedule to come do it.’”

This event has more community reach now as well, due to the popularity it has gained in it becoming a regular fixture on campus.

Appleton native Tracy Halbach, who was on campus for her daughter’s volleyball tournament, donated at Saturday’s blood drive and said she understands the importance of donating blood regularly, not just necessarily in a time of need.

“I think it’s definitely important,” Halbach said. “Blood is always something that can and needs to be [collected] just for accidents and different purposes. I know I get a lot of phone calls because I’m O-negative so everyone wants me to donate because it is universal blood.”

VanderWielen said the reliance on the community and school for donations is important, but an increase of donors has only helped support the drive.

“We rely 100 percent on our community to donate blood and help save lives,” VanderWielen said. “So when we can visit the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and really reach out to a young audience of donors who can become lifetime donors, it means even more lives each and every time.”

VanderWielen also said the turnout for more recent blood drives has been heightened in publicity, which has only helped increase the amounts of donations.

“Absolutely,” VanderWielen said. “So we’ve had many, many people reach out to us on campus and really want more involvement. Whether that be a student organization helping to host a blood drive, students contacting us to find out when we’re going to come back, its been a continuous influx of more participation and more support and for that we’re really, really grateful.”