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Willmar, Minn., sisters collectively donate 250-plus pints of blood

Sisters Cheryl Plathe of Willmar, from left, Colleen Barber of New London and Marian Bloom of Willmar show off their blood donor pins.Plathe and Barber earned 12-gallon pins Monday at the Red Cross Bloodmobile at the Willmar Assembly of God. Bloom is one pint short of earning her 13-gallon pin. (Tribune photo by Anne Polta(

WILLMAR -- If you do the math, sisters Colleen Barber, Cheryl Plathe and Marian Bloom have collectively donated nearly 300 pints of blood over the past four decades.

The sisters notched up another three units Monday at the American Red Cross Bloodmobile -- enough to earn Barber, 59, and Plathe, 57, their 12-gallon pins. Bloom, 55, has one unit to go before earning a 13-gallon pin.

"We're not competitive, are we?" Plathe joked as, one by one, the sisters were ushered to cots where Red Cross staff waited to take their blood.

All three have been donating blood since they were old enough to be eligible. They said the example was set by their father, who often took his children along when he gave blood.

"He always gave and he's the one who encouraged us kids to give," said Plathe, who's a retired nurse.

The trio has been consistently donating blood ever since. But they didn't realize two of them were almost eligible for their 12-gallon pins until Barber posted about it recently on Facebook. After a few emails back and forth, they decided to mark the occasion by having lunch together, then coming to the Bloodmobile.

There was a steady stream of donors Monday afternoon at the Willmar Assembly of God, where tables, chairs and cots transformed the lower level into a blood donation center. Donors, who included a couple of state workers furloughed by the government shutdown, waited patiently in line to be screened and have their hemoglobin tested. Some brought books or magazines.

Despite hot weather, the turnout was "wonderful -- really good for summer," said Cindy Woodman, the site coordinator. The goal was to collect 94 units of blood, she said.

As Barber, Plathe and Bloom waited their turn, they related how they reached the 12-gallon mark, the equivalent of 96 pints of blood.

Giving as often as possible is one of the keys, they agreed.

"I think it's just to make a personal goal to try to do it at least one more time a year," Barber said.

Employer support also makes a difference, she said. At the Minnesota Workforce Center, where she was a longtime employee before retiring, the staff was always given time to donate blood, she said.

For Bloom, who also works at the Workforce Center, the time factor wasn't an issue on Monday. She's been laid off by the government shutdown. Although she's the youngest of the trio, she also has donated the most blood, a feat made possible by giving double red cells, or two pints, multiple times.

Earning a pin has been motivating, the sisters agreed, but what inspired Plathe the most was a Red Cross thank-you letter she once received.

"It said, 'Because you gave blood, three lives were saved.' That was cool," she said.

Because of vacations, the drop in school-based blood drives and an increase in motor vehicle crashes, summer is an especially important time to donate, Woodman said.

On Monday the American Red Cross issued a special alert on the need for blood. According to the Red Cross, blood donations in May and June were at their lowest level nationally in more than a decade.

"The need is there constantly," Woodman said. "I don't think people realize that. They've never thought about it before."

"It's a way you can give," Plathe said. "It doesn't cost any money. It saves lives, and they need blood."

Upcoming dates to donate blood: Wednesday, 1 to 7 p.m., Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA; Friday, noon to 5 p.m., Sonshine Festival grounds, Willmar Civic Center; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sonshine Festival grounds, Willmar Civic Center; July 18, 1 to 7 p.m., Faith Lutheran Church, Spicer.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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