Giving the gift of life

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PROVIDENCE—Mallory Moreau was a little apprehensive at first after hearing some of the stories of what it could be like to donate blood.

For someone of any age who hasn’t donated before, the experience could be a bit daunting, with fears of the procedure being painful, or one that could leave the donor feeling weak or light-headed for a while.

But for Moreau, a La Salle Academy junior who was about to make state history as the first 16-year-old to donate blood under Rhode Island’s recently enacted law lowering the threshold for donors from the age of 17 to 16, her ability to serve as a role model to others her age triumphed over any concerns she may have had for herself.

“It was a lot better than I actually expected it would be,” Moreau said, as she swung her legs down from one of the dozen tables set up in the gym at her school by the Rhode Island Blood Center for a blood drive Monday.

“I didn’t even know when they actually started to take blood,” she said of her time reclined on the table in which she donated one pint of blood with the potential to save three lives. “It went petty smoothly. It was amazing.”

Moreau, a Lincoln resident who aspires to be a pediatrician one day, stepped into the spotlight after being asked by her aunt, Leslie Moreau, a staff member at the Rhode Island Blood Center, if she would be interested in serving as the first 16-year-old in the state to give blood.

She spoke with Mallory by phone immediately after she donated.

“I knew that she would just be perfect for this. She’s such an outgoing, charismatic person that I knew she would be able to handle this. I’m very proud of her,” Leslie said in a phone interview.

Moreau was one of 83 students who signed up to give blood on Monday, a record for the Blood Center at La Salle, which had set a goal of collecting 55 pints at the event.

Frank Prosnitz, manager of Community Development for the Blood Center, was pleased with the turnout.

“It’s clear that La Salle has done a great job getting the word out that this is a very easy process,” Prosnitz said.

While it may have been a first for Rhode Island to have a 16-year-old donate blood Monday, the state is far from the forefront of those who have allowed young people to do so.

According to Prosnitz, there are about 31 other states that have already lowered the age of acceptable donors to 16 to better help meet the need in widespread shortages of blood nationwide.

But unlike for 17 year-old donors, there are some conditions that need to be met before a 16-year-old can give blood.

As a precaution, 16-year-olds must weigh at least 130 lbs. and have a signed permission slip before being allowed to donate. Those 17 and older need to weigh at least 110 lbs., and do not require permission from a parent or guardian.

While Rhode Island’s need for blood in its hospitals and medical facilities is being met, Prosnitz says the center here is able to help with shortages in nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut.

And when a person donates one pint of blood, they are potentially saving three lives, as each pint is separated into its component parts of plasma, platelets and red cells, with each targeted to a patient in need.

Prosnitz said he was very proud of Moreau for her willingness to stand up and be counted under the new law.

“Her enthusiasm is just wonderful,” he said of Moreau. “She’s a great example.”

Right behind Moreau to donate was her friend and classmate Katharine Agliata.

“Actually, it didn’t hurt that much,” Agliata said.

She said it was Moreau who inspired her to donate.

“Mallory is one of my really good friends, and both my parents and my brother have donated,” she added, while stretched out on the table in the middle of donating.

Nearby was classmate Peter Borges. What motivated him to sign up for the drive?

“Civic responsibility,” he said.

Like her friend Agliata, Moreau’s parents also help the Blood Center to meet its need whenever they can.

Moreau says her father, Gerry, and mother, Shelley, have donated many times, with her father’s donation tally very close to the six-gallon mark. Mallory’s brother Jake, 19, also recently donated for the first time.

The selfless act of donating blood is even a topic for discussion in religion classes led by teacher David Martinez, who took to one of the tables himself to donate a pint of blood.

“They’re really committed to helping others and they’re putting their faith into action.”

Brother Michael Mc Kenery, president of La Salle Academy, visited with some of the students during the blood drive.

“I am deeply touched by the number of kids that signed up,” Brother Michael said.