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Law helps blood donations flow from teenagers

TEMPE - As other students enjoy the afternoon sun at Arizona State University, Anthony Palazzetti sits in a United Blood Services of Arizona bus giving blood.

Palazzetti, 19, said his mother's battle with leukemia taught him the importance of donating.

"I grew up seeing my mom get blood transfusions," he said. "That made me eventually want to start, because I know the effect it has on families."

Palazzetti belongs to the state's largest blood donor group, 16- to 19-year-olds, according to United Blood Services of Arizona.

Teens have traditionally been active donors, but officials say donations from the age group have surged since a 2008 law lowered the minimum age for donors from 17 to 16 with parental consent.

"We saw a huge increase among high school students when the 16-year-olds became eligible," said Sue Thew, a United Blood Services of Arizona spokeswoman.

Donations from high school students jumped from 18,335 during the 2007-2008 school year to 22,879 the following school year, after the law took effect, Thew said. Donations from the group reached 24,904 during the 2009-2010 school year.

Today, one in 10 transfusions in Arizona comes from blood donated by high school students, up from one in 13 transfusions before the law, she said.

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Former Sen. Robert Blendu, a Litchfield Park Republican who sponsored the bill to lower the minimum age, said he was pleased with the uptick in young donors but not surprised.

"Once people are given the freedom, they're willing (to act)," Blendu said. "When something needs to be done, we respond, and I believe 16-year-olds are no different."

Teen donors often get their start at high school blood drives, which simplify the donation process by bringing it to them. Mountain View High School in Mesa, for instance, holds a drive every fall and spring.

"A lot of people at my high school donate every semester," said Jazmin Amos, a Mountain View senior who started donating when she was 16.

Now 17, Amos, who has a rare blood type, AB positive, said she's in the donation chair the day after the wait period between donations is up.

More than 30 states and Puerto Rico now allow 16-year-olds to donate, according to Stephanie Millian with the American Red Cross. As more states approved younger donors, the Red Cross experienced a 19 percent jump in 16-year-old donors from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2010, Millian said.

"As baby boomers age, we know that we need to cultivate a new generation of younger blood donors," said Debra Deininger with the Arizona region of American Red Cross Blood Services. "We're looking for (teens) to develop habits now that will make them lifelong donors."

Thew, with United Blood Services of Arizona, said she thinks teens like to donate because it's a simple way to make a big impact.

"What these kids do to help set up blood drives at their schools, they're just absolutely incredible," Thew said. "I think they feel empowered that someone needs them."

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Maria Polletta/Cronkite News Service

Anthony Palazzetti, giving blood during a drive at Arizona State University, said his mother’s battle with leukemia taught him the importance of donating. At 19, Palazzetti belongs to the state’s largest blood donor group, according to United Blood Services of Arizona. Donations from the traditionally active 16- to 19-year-old demographic have surged since a 2008 law lowered the minimum legal age for donors from 17 to 16 with parental consent.

Blood donations from high school students

  • 2007-2008 school year: 18,335
  • 2008-2009 school year: 22,879
  • 2009-2010 school year: 24,904
  • Source: United Blood Services of Arizona