South Texas Blood & Tissue Center and H-E-B expand iron program for young blood donors

Iron supplement vouchers will now be made available to college students
September 24, 2019
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The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center (STBTC) and H-E-B are expanding a partnership launched last year designed to help replenish iron levels in young blood donors.

Beginning this semester, the program will include both high school students and college students 21 and younger. A voucher donated by H-E-B for a free 100-day supply of iron supplements will be given to college students at STBTC donor rooms or mobile college drives following their donations, along with a brochure on iron-rich foods.

“H-E-B is proud to support the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center in continuing the iron supplement program,” said Julie Bedingfield, H-E-B Public Affairs Manager. “We hope these efforts will help to ensure the health and wellness of the generous South Texas donor community.”

The program, the only one of its kind in the United States, was introduced last year with high school students, who give almost 20% of the blood collected by STBTC in a typical year. Parents of 16- and 17-year-olds again will receive by mail a voucher, a letter addressed to them following a student’s blood donation, information about the importance of maintaining normal iron levels and tips for boosting those levels.

H-E-B provided 10,000 vouchers last year and will supply 20,000 in 2019.

“We want to thank H-E-B for joining with us to expand the program,” said Elizabeth Waltman, chief operating officer of STBTC. “We’re excited about the success of the high school program last year, and we’re thrilled that H-E-B recognized its value.

“Protecting the health of our volunteer donors is our highest priority.”

Providing iron supplements increased the number of students eligible to give blood and led to an additional 185 donations during the 2018-19 school year.

A donor’s iron level must be adequate before he or she can give blood and STBTC checks hemoglobin levels – one method for testing iron levels – as part of a wellness check before every potential blood donation.

Donors who eat a healthy and balanced diet usually see their iron levels return to normal in about two months. However, a study funded by the National Institutes of Health showed that taking iron supplements can speed up the process of returning iron levels to pre-donation levels.

While all donors naturally lose some of their iron supply during a blood donation, teens and young adults are typically more susceptible to iron loss due to diets that often lack iron-rich foods.

Foods that help build iron levels in the body include eggs, beef, poultry and fish. Many grain products, including cereal and bread, are fortified with iron as well. Vegetables that contain high sources of iron include broccoli, peas, kale and baked potatoes. Vitamin C, contained in citrus and other tropical fruits, aids the body in absorbing iron. Even cooking in cast iron can make a difference in iron levels. Visit SouthTexasBlood.org/iron for more tips to improve iron levels prior to donation.

“Every year, low iron is the most common reason people can’t donate blood,” Waltman said. “So we want to help our donors prepare for their next donation through education regarding healthy eating habits and supplemental iron.”

For more information on the program, and on incorporating iron-rich foods into diets, visit SouthTexasBlood.org/iron. Recipes and information on iron-rich foods are also available on H-E-B’s website at HEB.com/recipe.