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Law change inspires younger blood donors

DULUTH - They could have been hanging out with friends, swimming at the beach or doing whatever it is that 16-year-olds like to do in the summer; but Tuesday, more than a dozen of these young adults from around the Twin Ports decided they would rather bleed.

Tuesday marked the first day a 16-year-old weighing more than 130 pounds and taller than 5 feet could legally donate blood with parental consent in Minnesota. The previously law said donors must be 17 and weigh more than 110 pounds. In honor of this new law, Laura Yax-Gulbranson, who just graduated from Proctor High School, organized a kickoff event called "Saving Lives At Sixteen."

"Initially, I started donating my blood because my family did and I wanted to join in contributing," Yax-Gulbranson said. "It wasn't until my sister needed four pints of blood after delivering her baby, my nephew, that I truly realized what a gift I was giving and how many lives I could save. In recruiting young people to come and donate, I'm finding them just as enthusiastic as I am; we all want to save lives."

After looking through her phone book and yearbook and passing around signup sheets at her church youth group, she gathered the phone numbers of more than 50 friends and classmates, mostly 16 years old, hoping to get them to show up and donate blood Tuesday.

Brandon Engblom, who will be a junior at Central High School, didn't expect to be donating blood at 16. But he had always planned to donate when he became old enough, and he's happy the rules have changed.

He didn't even seem to mind the pain.

"It's less painful than I thought it would be," he said. "It's really not that bad. I was thinking this is going to hurt pretty bad, but the finger prick hurt worse."

Alex Trentor, who will be a junior at Superior High School, also was at the Memorial Blood Center on Tuesday. Although he is 15 and can't donate yet, he gathered a group of friends to partake in "Saving Lives At Sixteen."

"You just help out a lot of people by donating. You don't get anything from it, but you get to help out a couple of people and maybe save a life," Trentor said. "You never know if you're going to need it."

Trentor's 16th birthday is July 29. He already has scheduled a blood donation for July 30. He would have done it on his birthday, but he plans to swim across a lake near Barnes, Wis., that day to help raise money and awareness for Type I diabetes, which he has.