Dome home blank
Search Dome

Go With the Flow
Responding to critical blood shortages, the Johns Hopkins Blood Drive Committee—in partnership with the American Red Cross—steps up blood donation efforts.

blank Katie Bell
Blood donation recruiter extraordinaire Brenda Figueroa in action.

In 1981, two weeks after Brenda Figueroa started her job as secretary for the School of Medicine’s Department of Biological Chemistry, her boss asked her a favor. Would she join the Johns Hopkins Blood Drive Committee? “You’re young and energetic and might inspire more people to give blood,” he told her. Plus, he added, it’s a great way to meet other employees.

“Of course I said yes,” says Figueroa, though she admits to having been nervous and shy. The meeting included about 15 people from across the institution and focused on ways to encourage employees to donate blood, in partnership with American Red Cross staff. “They greeted me so warmly,” recalls Figueroa, who immediately started spreading the word.

She’s been on the committee ever since. Now administrative manager in the Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, Figueroa has consistently been among the top recruiters—responsible for as many as 25 new donors per year over the past 26 years. By her own estimation, that translates into at least 1,400 units (pints) of blood.

But, much to Figueroa’s disappointment, not one drop has been her own. The diminutive recruiter has always been rejected for blood donation because she weighs too little. That hasn’t stopped her, however, from giving others the hard sell. 

Today a re-energized committee of about 58, representing numerous departments, meets throughout the year over lunch to brainstorm about strategies and incentives. Despite their efforts, as people live longer and require more life-saving surgeries and treatments, the need for blood—and recruiters—has never been greater.

In partnership with the American Red Cross, which supplies about 45 percent of the nation’s blood, Hopkins is pulling out all the stops to promote blood donations and has set a goal for 2008 of collecting 2,500 units of blood, a 30 percent increase from last year.

According to the Red Cross, donors say their No. 1 reason for giving blood is to help others. And, says Hopkins Hospital President Ron Peterson—a blood donor since 1973— “when you work for an organization where the primary focus is helping people and saving lives, you search for every possible way to do just that.” Beyond personal rewards, Hopkins is offering substantial material incentives as well (see box).

The actual blood donation takes only about 10 minutes, but donors should allow another hour for the screening, paperwork and snack. A trained phlebotomist conducts the donation, a completely safe and sterile process.

In the early days, Figueroa, who’s always had access to medical students, would give her spiel before a class would start. “As med students,” she’d say, “you know why we need blood.” Then she’d circulate a sign-up sheet. When exams were passed out, she’d include a note reminding them of their appointments.

Figueroa has heard reasons why people don’t choose to give blood. Some, she says, are legitimate, but many are rooted in ignorance or fear, like, What if I don’t have enough blood? (Actually, the average adult has 10 to 12 pints of blood in his body. The donated blood is usually replenished within 24 hours.) And, when people tell Figueroa they might faint from the sight of a needle, she says, “Don’t worry—I’ll hold you up.”

“People always think someone else will donate, but we’ve reached a point where we can’t assume that,” says Figueroa. “When I ask others to donate blood, I say, I’m not asking you for money; I’m asking you to give someone life.”

—Judy Minkove

To volunteer for the blood drive, contact Shereen Jahed at And to learn more about blood donation, visit




Johns Hopkins Medicine

About Dome | Archive
© 2007 The Johns Hopkins University
and Johns Hopkins Health System