RNO Member Initiates Blood Drive at Facility
Thursday, August 09, 2012

RNO member Brent Watson

Reno Air Traffic Control Tower (RNO) members are on pace to save 240 lives by the end of the year.

RNO member Matt Roberts initiated a blood drive at his facility in March and so far the RNO employees, including NATCA members, managers and staff, have together donated 26 pints of blood, equal to just over three gallons. Roberts said at this rate, they are on course to donate nine gallons of blood this year. Word of the donation is rapidly spreading throughout the facility and he thinks they could end up reaching their ultimate goal of 10 gallons.

Are you wondering where the number 240 comes from? According to the American Red Cross, the average person gives one pint of blood during a donation and one pint can save up to three lives. There are eight pints in one gallon. Multiply eight pints by three lives per pint and that’s 24 lives saved per one gallon of blood. If RNO employees successfully reach their goal to donate 10 gallons of blood, that’s 240 lives!

When Roberts arrived at RNO after being hired by the FAA in December 2011, he reviewed the contract and came across the blood leave policy, which allows federal employees up to four hours of paid time to donate blood. He realized that no one at his facility was utilizing the blood leave policy and found the reason was because they didn’t know about it or understand how to use it. By spreading the word about blood leave and donating blood, Roberts, an avid blood donor himself, made it his mission to motivate his NATCA family members to give back to their community.

NATCA appointed Roberts to the watch schedule at his facility, which means he is responsible for insuring proper manning levels at the facility at all times. Since he is in touch with everyone at the facility at one point or another, he realized he could use that responsibility as a mechanism to solicit his co-workers for participation in blood drives and explain the blood leave policy. He got approval from his facility representative and manager, and started talking to his co-workers.

Roberts said when he approached his co-workers about donating they were skeptical of his motives. They wondered what he was getting out of it and why he cared so much. Roberts explained that he does it because it’s a way for him to give back to his community, and it makes him feel good to do so.

“I’m not looking for any sort of recognition,” said Roberts. “But if a little recognition causes other people to participate, well then that’s fantastic.”

Roberts tries to take all the work out of donating so all people have to do is decide what time to sign up.  By making it convenient to donate, Roberts has seen an increase in participation and has even seen a few individuals start to donate on their own, without his help.

He noted that his co-workers who do donate blood have helped increase participation by going back to the facility and raving about their experience. They talk about the perks of donating blood, such as movie tickets the blood banks pass out for their participation.

Roberts started donating blood regularly during his service time in the Navy. He joined a couple weeks after he graduated high school and donated whenever blood drives were held on the base.

He continued to donate after he left the Navy and said he is more regimented than ever. He donates as often as law allows him—every eight weeks.

While donating his blood allows Roberts to give back to his community and it makes him feel good, there is another reason he does it. His blood type is O-negative, the universal blood type, the only type that can be transfused to patients with other blood types and the preferred type for babies needing exchange transfusions. Roberts knew he had the universal blood type, but didn’t know that his blood was being given to babies at the local Reno Children’s Hospital until he missed a recent donation.

Roberts said one time he waited 10 weeks in between donations and he received a call from a nurse with the blood bank to which he donates. The nurse was hounding him for not donating on time and he asked her why she was giving him such a hard time when he donated out of the goodness of his heart and on his time.

Roberts said, “She said, 'Mr. Roberts do you know what we do with your blood? We take your one unit of blood, break it into six units and take it to the children’s hospital where they send it directly to the NICU and newborn infants that need your blood get it. And we need more of it.'”
After that phone call, Roberts never again let time lag between donations. Especially once he found out he was going to be a dad.

Roberts recently welcomed into his family a baby girl, Iliana. The first-time dad is happier and busier than ever, but still plans to donate blood when the next eight-week mark comes around.

Matt Roberts and Iliana Roberts