Red Cross throws out sorority’s donations

As a safeguard, the Red Cross destroyed blood from Gamma Phi Beta.
Friday, June 25, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:19 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 12, 2008

All blood donations rounded up by an MU sorority were quietly destroyed after a student organizer urged fellow members to lie about their health to qualify as donors, according to an American Red Cross spokesman quoted in local news reports.

Jim Williams of the American Red Cross told the Columbia Tribune the organization didn’t announce its destruction of the 81 units of blood because it didn’t want to raise undue concerns about the safety of its supplies.

The newspaper confirmed the destruction of the blood through a federal Freedom of Information Act inquiry to the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA said the Red Cross told a federal inspector April 15 that the donations linked to Gamma Phi Beta sorority were being destroyed.

MU Greek Life Director Janna Basler said her office was made aware of the Red Cross’ decision to discard the units of blood in April.

“They called to let us know beforehand,” Basler said. “They said they had thought long and hard about it but had to for health reasons,” Basler said.

She added, “We support the Red Cross on their decisions to keep the community safe and healthy.”

The newspaper said Williams, the Red Cross spokesman, had said two days before the inspector’s visit that individual testing of each unit of donated blood would assure its safety.

Williams told the newspaper Wednesday that when he made that statement, he didn’t know the donations from the university blood drive were being destroyed.

“Our main emphasis there was to make sure the public wasn’t alarmed for any reason,” Williams said. “We always had the overall blood supply in mind.”

Questionnaires filled out by blood donors are intended as safeguards.

Those forms include a sticker — which a donor who has second thoughts may attach in private after giving blood — directing that the donation not be used.

Donors who have had recent piercings, tattoos or health problems are discouraged from giving blood, both for their own safety and to assure donations are untainted.

As part of a campus blood drive last spring, fraternities and sororities competed to round up the greatest number of donors. The student groups received reward points and honors for the largest participation.

But Christie Key, a sophomore who was promoting the blood drive among fellow members of Gamma Phi Beta, sent an April 6 e-mail urging: “I don’t care if you got a tattoo last week. LIE. I don’t care if you have a cold. Suck it up. We all do. LIE. Recent peircings? (sic) LIE.”

Key later apologized for sending the e-mail and was disciplined by the sorority. Gamma Phi Beta’s national headquarters also apologized, and the MU chapter had its competitive points deleted from the campus competition. The university also demanded discussions among student organizations about whether the competition had gotten out of hand.

FDA spokeswoman Lenore Gelb told the newspaper that her agency thought the Red Cross decision to destroy the donations was appropriate.

Williams acknowledged to the Tribune that the destruction of all blood donations tied to the sorority wasn’t publicly announced. “I don’t think we misled anyone,” he said.

Williams said the rest of the more than 3,000 units of blood collected during the university drive were processed normally.

Missourian reporter Kimberlee Heinz contributed to this article.

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