Blood donation in Alaska has changed drastically since the 1950s, when blood was drawn on location from walk-in donors just prior to surgery or at the time of an accident. The blood drawn from these donors, referred to as “Walking Blood Banks,” was transfused directly to the recipient with no processing and minimal testing. By the early 1960s Alaska’s need for systematized blood banking was obvious to the entire medical community.
In 1962, Dr. Michael F. Beirne, of Alaska Medical Laboratories, initiated the foundation of a not-for-profit blood bank designed to serve the blood needs of the sick and injured Alaskans statewide. That first year at Blood Bank of Alaska there was only one technician named Charles King and one bed. The donors had to schedule appointments around other medical services and testing. In the first year 682 pints of blood were collected and distributed to local hospitals.
In 1982, Blood Bank of Alaska moved into an dedicated space at 4000 Laurel Street in Anchorage. That same year the current logo was designed as part of a contest with Alaska artists through the “1% for Art” program.
In 1993, automated apheresis donation to was added to the list of services offered at Blood Bank of Alaska. This process allows the donor to donate components of blood such as platelets and plasma while returning the remaining components back to the donor. Originally completed on a machine called Spectra, in 2005 the machine was upgraded to the current TRIMA machine.
As the population of Alaska grew, so did the need for blood. Opening two new facilities for collections one in 1995 located in the Mat-Su Valley and in 1999 in the Kenai Peninsula. Realizing the best way to generate blood collections was to take the blood collection process to the people, Blood Bank of Alaska purchased its first self contained mobile collection unit in 1999. The LIFEmobile coach was funded entirely through community donations. In 2005, Blood Bank of Alaska opened the Fairbanks Center. A second coach was purchased in 2008, to expand the mobile collections capabilities to cover the hundreds of mobile drives held each year from Dead Horse to Dutch Harbor.
From the original 682 units collected that first year, Blood Bank of Alaska now collects over 24,000 units each year. The vision of Dr. Beirne has transformed into a multi-site, multi-service blood bank that continues to serve Alaska. Blood Bank of Alaska opened a new central facility in Anchorage in 2016, which will serve the community for the next 50 years. A center in Juneau was added in 2018 and two new mobile coaches were purchased to continue to serve the community. On the horizon in 2023 is the opening of a Kenai center, we are excited to connect with community members throughout the state with these new efforts.