April 9, 2018 | by Maxine Nunes
The invitations to Dana Ullerich’s “Bloody Birthday Bash” read, “Help me celebrate another year of my life by giving life!”
The party was an all-day open house, with bagels and lox for breakfast, homemade chili for lunch, an array of desserts and one very special touch — a City of Hope bloodmobile right outside her home.
Guests ate and schmoozed and donated blood, and by the end of the day, a remarkable 42 units had been collected.
It all began when Ullerich met Jordan Berley, a researcher at City of Hope, who mentioned that she’d once celebrated her birthday by donating blood with friends.
“I thought that was such an amazing idea — a gift to give back for your birthday instead of taking,” said Ullerich.
A first she thought she’d just take a few friends to the City of Hope Blood Donor Center, then she had an even better idea — one that really excited her. What if she could throw a blood donor party at home. People could hang out and have fun, and there would be lots of camaraderie, with everyone supporting each other.
So Berley introduced Ullerich to Kasie Uyeno, manager of donor recruitment at City of Hope.
It was definitely an out-of-the-box idea,” said Uyeno. “But Dana’s energy and clarity and purpose were so strong, it was hard not to support it.”
Ullerich is definitely a can-do woman. She’s not only raising three sons, she also works for the family business, an aircraft parts manufacturer, where she wears several hats, including chief financial officer.
There was, however, one big obstacle she had to overcome to make the party a reality. In order for the bloodmobile to come to her house, Ullerich needed a commitment to donate from at least 50 people. She put the word out on social media, but three weeks before the party, she still had only 17 sign-ups.
“I started to get a little nervous about whether I could really get enough people,” she said. “That was the battle. That was the hardest part for me.”
Then City of Hope pitched in to help. They designed a flyer, provided a link where people could sign up for a donation time slot and got the word out to previous City of Hope donors who lived near Ullerich.
At the same time, Ullerich continued to post on social media. She also created a from-the-heart video with her 12-year-old son Vaughn, who enthusiastically pitched the $5 In-N-Out Burger gift card every donor would get.
By the time the deadline rolled around, more than 50 people had signed up. Many came with their families, and Ullerich hosted about 100 people in all — including a couple of exciting surprises.
“There were people I went to elementary school with, a couple more from high school and one woman I was in Girl Scouts with,” she said. “It was so great reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in years.”
Still, there was one other thing that worried Ullerich that day. She’d never donated blood before. When a friend’s son got cancer, she had tried to give platelets and was turned away because her iron levels were too low. With her doctor’s help, she’d been on an iron protocol, but she had no idea if her levels would be high enough.
“I was like, oh gosh. How embarrassing that would be if I did all this and couldn’t give blood myself.”
But the protocol worked, and her iron levels were fine. “What I loved was that donating was so easy. It was actually fun, and the staff made these cute little bows to put on my wrap. It was like a birthday girl armband that made it really special.”
It was a day Ullerich will never forget — an amazing party that also helped save lives. She’s looking forward to doing another one.
“There were a lot of people who told me, 'Oh, it’s just something I never think about doing, and you made it so easy for me to just come over and hang out and give blood,'” she said. “Everyone felt so good about giving. It was really fantastic.”
Ullerich’s birthday bash has paved the way for others who want to throw a blood donor event. “I absolutely would encourage it,” Uyeno said. “I love the fact that Dana did it, because it was a wonderful model that we can share with other people.”
The need for blood and platelets at City of Hope is enormous — more than 37,000 units a year are required to help cancer patients survive. If you’d like to become a donor or even host your own blood donation party, visit idonateblood4hope.org or contact City of Hope’s Blood Donor Center at 626-471-7171.