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Published on October 31, 2016

Driving for blood around the CapeDriving for blood around the Cape

Driving a big noisy rig like the Cape Cod Healthcare blood mobile would intimidate most people, but for Ann-Marie Savery it’s all in a day’s work.

“I used to drive an RV, so this is not very different from that,” she said on a recent ride to a blood drive at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster. “This is almost easier in some ways because I’m so much higher and I have no hood in comparison to what I had with the RV.”

Also a phlebotomist with the Cape Cod Healthcare Blood Center, Savery arrives at the Hyannis lot where the blood mobile is parked four or five days a week and prepares it for service. First she disconnects the vehicle – which is about the size of a moving van – from its power source, tucks away the cord and plugs in the generators. Next she lifts the hood and checks all the fluids.

She starts the diesel engine and lets it warm up to the fill the air breaks. Then she helps the three to four other phlebotomists load the supplies they will need. Once the phlebotomists and their supplies are on board, she folds up the stairs and double checks the door to make sure it’s locked.

She Easily Navigates Tight Spaces

Before driving the blood mobile, Savery drove an ambulance for 11 years and has worked for Cape Cod Hospital, first in diagnostics and then the lab, since 1998. Working in the lab, she became very familiar with the work of the blood center and how the donor program worked. When the position for a phlebotomist/driver became available, she knew she would be perfect for the job.

Once on the road, Savery takes pride in making turns in one try. Her arms spin the steering wheel in a tight circle as she successfully navigates corners. Nearby cars are dwarfed by the size and noise of the diesel engine, making casual conversation with others in the vehicle difficult.

The ride is bumpier than cruising in a bus, and Savery said she had to learn the intricacies of air brakes, which require braking earlier than normal. The weight distribution of the bus, with its light back end and heavy front, has been another challenge to adjust to in the 13 months she’s been driving the blood mobile.

Backing up the huge vehicle requires the use of three cameras attached to the back and sides whose images appear on a screen to the right of the driver’s seat. Once she arrives at her destination, parking the blood mobile in a level space is the greatest challenge. She occasionally has to level it out more than once to ensure people can climb the stairs easily.

Inside the blood mobile, there are two little offices where people can do confidential medical histories and four beds for donating. The entire process of donating blood takes about 40 minutes, according to Savery.

Local Blood Collections Have Increased

The traveling blood mobile enables Cape Cod Healthcare Blood Donor Services to go to businesses and non-profits where there isn’t space to set up blood donation equipment. Another part of its appeal is its visibility in high traffic areas like Mid-Cape Home Center in Dennis or Market Basket in Bourne, which are frequent hosts of blood drives. Just seeing the bus reminds people to donate, Savery said.

Before the blood mobile, Cape Cod Healthcare was able to collect about 35 percent of its required blood supply locally through blood drives and at the donor centers at the two hospitals. Now they collect 70 percent of the blood they need locally, and all the donated blood stays on Cape Cod.

“We’ve been doing very well lately,” Savery said. “We’ve been averaging 20 units a drive and our goal is 20 to 25 units a drive. I hope it’s a trend upwards.”

The rest of the blood used on the Cape must be purchased from the Rhode Island Blood Center or the American Red Cross. Having a large source of local blood saves Cape Cod Healthcare money, but it also ensures a constant supply of blood, something that is especially important in the event of supply shortages or natural disasters.

Drawing blood from donors is an entirely different field from drawing blood from patients at a clinic, Savery said. For one thing, it’s a different mindset.

“We have to look at it differently because they are doing us a favor,” she said. “They are going to help or save two of our patients at the hospital. Yesterday I was drawing from a donor who was getting his second gallon award. That’s always exciting because two gallons is 16 pints. That is 32 people who have benefited from this gentleman’s donations.”

The blood mobile goes to its regular donation sites every eight weeks because that’s how often repeat donors can participate. People donate for many reasons, but the most common one is that they’ve had a family member who needed blood. Savery became diligent about donating herself after she lost her mother because her mother required a lot of blood at the end of her life.

She is happy to be doing something that enables her to help others, she said.

“I call this my retirement job,” she said. “I’m not going to retire soon, but it’s a very positive note to go out on. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to work in a field where you go home every day feeling good.”

If your organization would like to host a blood drive with the blood mobile call 508-86-BLOOD. If you would like to donate blood, view upcoming blood drives or visit Cape Cod Healthcare’s website.