Job spotlight: Janavia Peacock, blood collection technician with American Red Cross

Just like Uncle Sam, the American Red Cross needs you. And that need never ever stops.

Janavia Peacock is one of those on the front lines of the constant battle to keep the blood supply flowing in the Southern Region's Central Georgia District.

Based out of Columbus, she is a blood collection technician -- and a certified phlebotomist -- who relentlessly works blood drives north to Troup County, south to Marion County, and over into the Macon-Warner Robins area.

This is a hectic period for Peacock, 27, and the 41 other staffers in the local Blood Services office, according to Steven Tennant, donor recruitment representative. College and high school students make up about 30 percent of donors while school is in, he said, although that dries up as proms, graduations and summer vacations arrive.

That puts a pinch on supplies in Columbus, a city that needs about 65 units of blood each day, just as more trauma injuries occur as the weather warms -- everything from automobile and all-terrain vehicle accidents to injuries from boating, water skiing and hiking mishaps.

"We're always an importing region, meaning we do not ever collect enough blood to support our community. We import from other parts of the state, from other parts of the country," said Tennant, who estimates his blood drives net an average of 55 to 60 units a day, with a portion of that comprised of platelet collections, which are used in cases such as cancer treatments.

The Ledger-Enquirer sat down with Peacock at Christ Community Church on Milgen Road last week to discuss her job, experiences and aspirations. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What did you do before becoming a blood collection technician with the Red Cross?

I was a registered phlebotomist at The Medical Center for about a year and a half.

You started working with the Red Cross a year ago. Why the change?

Working in a hospital setting, it can get emotional because you see people everyday and they may not be getting better. On top of that, you're sticking them and trying to get labs. Everybody's different, but it weighed on me. Here you have to be healthy to donate, and I get to see smiling faces versus, 'Oh, man, you're coming in here to stick me again,' in the hospital.

You're not a volunteer, but paid and trained by the Red Cross?

There are different technical schools that allow us to get a phlebotomy certificate. But as far as the American Red Cross, they train us. We're regulated by the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), so there are strict policies and procedures that we must follow, and we have to remain in compliance at all times.

Are you ever squeamish when you see blood?

Not at all.

But some donors can become unsettled at times?

Oh, definitely. But the good outweighs the anxiety feeling. A lot of people see giving blood as nothing monetary. You don't have to give your money. They think, 'If I can go a few minutes with being uncomfortable, I can save three lives today.'

Some folks can become nervous?

Definitely. Everybody has a different personality as far as how anxious they are based on how regularly they donate. If they're more of a regular donor, it's nothing to them; they can pop in and do it and they're good to go. We just talk them through each step and make sure that they understand what we're doing and let them know if they have any questions, we're here to answer them.

How many blood drives do you do each week and where are they typically done?

I work every day of the week, sometimes Sundays. We have them in churches, schools, businesses, community centers. We also have the trailers and buses that we can use.

What's the most important aspect of your job?

The important thing is we have donors to donate, because without donors we can't get the blood in order to give to sick patients at hospitals or wherever, or cancer patients who need platelets. Without the donors we wouldn't be able to provide that and without them I wouldn't have a job.

A lot of people don't realize how badly their blood is needed?

Exactly. It's not really something they think about all the time. The anxiety behind getting stuck by a needle also really drives a lot of people away. We're here to help them throughout the whole process.

What's the key to inserting a needle in someone's arm just right, without pain?

It's all about technique with being a phlebotomist. But the things that a donor can actually do is prep their body to donate. You do not donate on an empty stomach.

A lot of people just jump up and come in and try to donate. You need to eat at least an hour before donating. And be very well hydrated. A lot of people don't realize that is a key factor in their experience. If they're not hydrated enough they might go slow, or they might not finish a whole bag, depending on how dehydrated they are.

What about consuming aspirin before giving blood?

You can take aspirin. We'll accept you if you've taken aspirin. Your platelets from the donation won't be used because aspirin kills platelets. But the red cells in the plasmas will still be able to be used.

Is the Red Cross a possible career for you?

It's hard to say right now. The American Red Cross has many different avenues you can go into. So I'm willing to make it a career. (The next step would) probably be a supervisory position, just like any other organization or company.