"Aren't you only 16?" one said to a friend who held a required personal information form."Just forge it," another suggested."No, listen," came a third voice. "You can do it at 16."Unlike the many activities denied to underage teens, blood drives have started welcoming 16-year-old donors with open arms."I always wanted to give blood but was never old enough," said junior Shana Williams, who munched on Oreos and drank juice to replenish herself after being drained of a pint of her blood.Williams and other Francis Lewis students her age became the first 16-year-olds in state history to give blood.The New York Blood Center, a non-profit organization that provides blood to 200 hospitals in the metropolitan area, kicked off its three-month pilot program at the Fresh Meadows school last week after the state Department of Health granted it a variance from the normal 17-year-old age limit."This year's going to be something with this age addition," predicted Ana Piltower, a Spanish teacher who, as student activities coordinator, was nominated to lead the one-day event.By the drive's end at 2:30 p.m., 108 students had given a pint of blood, a quarter of whom were 16. At the school's last drive in October when the age limit was 17, only 59 student donated, according to Julie Robinson-Tingue, a spokeswoman for the New York Blood Center.If that sort of pattern holds throughout the entire pilot drive, the center may for once have no problem supplying the needed 650 pints each week to the 13 hospitals it serves in Queens alone. About a dozen other borough high schools, including Hillcrest and Flushing high school, have agreed to participate in the program, Robinson-Tingue said."I don't really like needles, but I know it's a good thing to do," said Lilibeth Guerrero, 16, while waiting among about 40 other students at the seven-hour blood drive. Sitting in line next to her was a much less nervous Christine Sanchez, also a junior, who explained, "I've had my ears pierced like eight times."Sanchez said she was there because of her cousin, a nurse at St. Vincent Hospital, who would tell her stories of accident victims surviving because of a stranger's blood."I know a lot of people need it more than I do," said the 16-year-old, who was missing, none too regrettably, American history and Earth science class. Not all who wanted to were eligible to give blood, however. Shraddha Desai, 16, a junior who emigrated from Gujarat, India in 2004, left disappointed when nurses told her the soonest she could donate was 2007 since her country was deemed high-risk for malaria."I want to become a doctor. I know how people suffer and understand they need blood," she said. "I was so excited to hear I could donate before they told me no."Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.
©2005 Community News Group
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