‘A whole lifetime full of experiences’: LMH Health blood bank supervisor to retire after more than 4 decades working with blood donations

photo by: Kim Clark

Faith Friesen sits for a blood donation at a recent drive. Friesen will soon retire after nearly two decades serving as LMH Health's blood bank supervisor.

It’s difficult to summarize a career spanning more than four decades in just a few words, but there’s a few that do the trick when it comes to Faith Friesen — 25,000 lives saved.

Friesen, the blood bank supervisor for LMH Health, is preparing to retire after 43 years of working with blood donations. In the nearly 20 years since Friesen began coordinating LMH Health’s blood drives, she’s overseen the collection of 8,579 units of blood across 125 drives. According to Kim Clark, who works in donor recruitment for the Community Blood Center of Greater Kansas City, that’s the equivalent of 25,130 lives saved.

“It’s a whole lifetime full of experiences,” Friesen told the Journal-World earlier this month. “… Blood banking and donors have kind of been my life, really. Blood donation is really near and dear to my heart — I’m invested in it, and trying to drum up donors.”

Friesen has been dealing with blood and blood donors since her college days in the late 1970s, when she worked nights at a lab in Hays calling donors to come in on short notice in the aftermath of events like bad car wrecks. It was that work that she said made her realize how important blood donations are.

When she arrived at LMH Health in 2005, blood drives were run by more of a committee approach. Staff from different departments in the hospital worked together to plan themed drives and other events, but the hospital eventually became busy enough that it was hard to pull those people away from their jobs for committee meetings. It became Friesen’s responsibility to coordinate.

“The Lawrence community has always been so good about (donating blood),” Friesen said. “All you have to do is get the word out there, and they come running. Really, that was all I needed to do. It wasn’t like we had to do a lot of fancy things to entice them, to get them in.”

Friesen said she’s even heard staff with the Community Blood Center, which provides the vast majority of blood used by more than 60 area hospitals including LMH Health, say that “Lawrence bleeds like no other place.” She said she’s been glad to work in a community where there are a lot of altruistic people who will step up and do what they need to do to help others.

Over the years, Friesen said she’s seen the landscape around blood donation work change dramatically, from technological strides to better strategies for getting the word out about upcoming drives. For example, younger blood technicians getting into the field today are often surprised when she describes “mouth pipetting,” an outdated lab technique in which a scientist used their mouth to draw liquids into a glass tube, similar to using a straw to sip a drink.

“Things have changed — I’ve seen a lot,” Friesen said.

Friesen really means that; most recently, she had to navigate collecting blood donations during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. That meant rearranging furniture and cutting down on the number of people allowed in the donation space at one time to accommodate social distancing procedures and sending donors on a roundabout path to enter the hospital so as to avoid encountering patients.

But Friesen also navigated another major epidemic that affected the blood supply: HIV. There wasn’t much knowledge about the disease when blood donation prohibitions were put in place during the HIV and AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Until only recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s policy for donor screening required gay and bisexual men to wait three months following their last sexual contact with another man to donate blood; the new policy eliminates that time-based restriction and screens all potential donors equally for HIV.

“Now we’ve seen that kind of come full circle,” Friesen said. “The testing that we do is very sensitive and specific for HIV, and so the blood donations are just as safe as they’ve ever been because of all the testing.”

Friesen won’t be going out without one last hurrah — she planned her last day around two more LMH Health blood drives taking place Nov. 29 and Nov. 30. And even though she said it doesn’t take many bells and whistles to draw donors in Lawrence, there will be some additional perks on the table. All donors will not only receive a Kansas City Chiefs T-shirt for donating, they’ll also be entered into a drawing to win tickets to an upcoming Chiefs game and the KU men’s basketball game against TCU on Jan. 6, 2024.

Most of all, though, Friesen said she wants to break her record for donations collected in one day at each drive; the records currently stand at 126 for the main campus and 84 for LMH West.

“I’d like this to be the biggest drive ever,” Friesen said. “… I couldn’t have done it alone, if it weren’t for the people of Lawrence being so dedicated and caring. It takes a village.”

As of Saturday, all but seven afternoon slots were filled for the drive at LMH West, 6265 Rock Chalk Drive, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, and sign-ups are still open. There were more than 30 slots available as of Saturday for the drive at LMH Health’s main campus, 325 Maine St., on Thursday, Nov. 30 between 8:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. Interested donors can sign up through the Community Blood Center website.


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