Supplying 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply, the American Red Cross consistently emphasizes the importance of giving blood and its lifesaving abilities. It’s something an Oak Park couple who both work in the medical field and regularly donate blood, not only know to be true, but it’s also a part of their love story.
“My wife, Katie, and I met at Loyola University Medical Center working in the blood bank,” said Dennis Arocena. “We started on the same day and went to the same new employee orientation. We even had sequential tech code numbers assigned from our lab’s information system. I can’t think of any other techs in our blood bank that have sequential tech codes so it’s pretty fun that the only ones to have them ended up getting married.”
For both Dennis and Katie Arocena, their interest in working for a blood bank comes from wanting a career that allows them to help people every day.
“To me, the blood bank is the lab department where one can most directly help patients,” Katie said. “Yes, it’s very stressful and it’s a lot of pressure because someone’s life is on the line, but I thrive in that environment. I really found what I could do to help people from the lab perspective.”
Working in a hospital blood bank, the Arocenas coordinate receiving blood products from the Red Cross, manage their hospital’s available supply, and ensue the blood products go to matching patients in need of transfusion.
“The blood bank is regulated by the FDA, so we’re basically a pharmacy and blood is considered the drug, and we are the dispensers of this,” Dennis said. “We have a lot of cancer patients, sickle cell patients, and patients who have been transfused many times and therefore can develop many antibodies. Then we must coordinate with our local American Red Cross reference lab to order and get specialized blood to our facility to try and transfuse the patients.”
Dennis continues to work in the blood bank at Loyola, while Katie is now the blood bank supervisor at another area hospital. Though they no longer work together, it’s still a common topic of conversation at home.
And because they know the importance of blood, they make it a priority to donate together. Through the Red Cross, Katie has donated 30 whole blood units, while Dennis has donated 130 units of whole blood, platelets, and plasma.
“We try to bring more awareness to the importance of giving blood,” Katie said. “It’s not just victims of car accidents who need blood. It’s a grandma who has cancer or someone who has a baby. There are a lot of different reasons why someone might need blood, and there is no other substitute.”
One of their favorite parts of donating is tracking where their blood ends up on the Red Cross Donor app. Katie says her blood has ended up as far away as California, Texas and Florida.
“Since my blood type is O positive and can be given to almost anybody, my blood can go a lot of places and being able to have that conclusion to your donating experience is really cool,” Katie said. “Your unit might be the unit that saves someone’s life.”
Download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 800-RED CROSS to make an appointment to give blood. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. Thank you for rolling up a sleeve!
Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Mara Thompson