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Houchin Blood Bank overflowing with donors after Las Vegas shooting

Jocelyn Dimaya blood donation

In this file photo, Jocelyn Dimaya donates blood at Houchin Blood Bank.

Josh Moore has been donating blood regularly since he was old enough to have nurses draw it from his veins, but on Monday, his routine took on a different meaning.

Moore, now 37, has cousins in Las Vegas, two of whom may have been at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Moore isn't sure if they are OK, or even if they were there. He hasn't been able to get in touch with them since before the concert.

“Anytime there’s a need, my first instinct is to help however I can,” Moore said.

His instinct was echoed by hundreds of Kern County residents who visited Houchin Community Blood Bank Monday in the wake of Sunday evening’s tragedy in Las Vegas, which left more than 500 injured and at least 59 dead — the worst mass shooting in American history.

Moore looked around the crowded lobby Monday afternoon.

“I haven't seen this lobby this packed since 9-11,” Moore said.

Houchin saw more than 300 red blood cell and platelet donations Monday, said Carolina Aparicio, a community development support specialist. By closing time, it still had about 15 people in the lobby.

“We’re going to take all these people,” Aparicio said.

Houchin officials say they will never turn down red blood donations — especially from donors carrying rare and universal blood types, like O positive and O negative — but platelets are what is needed the most. Just days before the weekend shooting, the American Red Cross called Houchin asking for platelet donations to assist hurricane relief efforts. Houchin had none to offer.

“Platelets are going to be the biggest ongoing need, and that’s what we’re hearing from blood centers more directly involved,” said Carola Enriquez, director of community development at Houchin Blood Bank.

Those platelets can save more lives than red blood donations and last longer on the shelf, but because platelet donations take about two hours to draw, it’s harder to attract donors, Enriquez said.

“One donation can provide platelets for three people, or three units, which might be needed by one person in the case of a terrible shooting situation such as this,” Enriquez said.

Shelly Gilliland, an advertising sales representative at Univision, nearly went to the concert herself.

A couple of friends offered her and her boyfriend two wristbands for the weekend. If she wasn't so busy, she would have gone, she said.

Instead, she was so devastated by the weekend’s events that she walked across the parking lot from her workplace to Houchin and offered up what could be offered from 286 miles away: the gift of life.

“If it was my family, I’d want people lining up here,” Gilliland said as she waited to donate her blood.

Her friend was saved from a barrage of bullets by a stranger who leaped on top of her to shield her from gunfire, Gilliland said.

“I just wish I knew who he was so I could thank him,” Gilliland said her friend told her, remarking on the sense of humanity that emerges during tragedies.

Others, like Jocelyn Dimaya, had little connection to the shooting. She has no family in Las Vegas and knew no one at the concert. Despite that, she said, “it still feels close to home.”

Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce


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