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A stickler for safety brings a smile to the needle-wary

Photo: Fajrul Islam/ Getty Images
A stickler for safety brings a smile to the needle-wary
By Pete Levine and Pablo Ros ·
A stickler for safety brings a smile to the needle-wary
Member-provided photo.

Two years ago, Ashley Peterson experienced a digital phenomenon most of us have experienced at one time or another: she was talking to her mom about how she needed to sign up to donate blood and an hour later, an advertisement for the American Red Cross popped up on her phone.

In this case, the ad Peterson saw wasn’t for donations. Instead, it was for a job: to become a phlebotomist – a blood drawer – for the Red Cross.

For the single parent of two kids, it was the right opportunity at the right time. Peterson had just finished a season as a roofer and was looking for new work. Having already been a longtime Red Cross blood donor and having had family members whose lives were saved through blood transfusions, Peterson believed in the mission and signed up.

Now, two years since that ad appeared on her phone, Peterson has been promoted twice, a fact that her co-worker, David Torgerson, who nominated Peterson for AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award, says comes as no surprise.

“She does outstanding work,” says Torgerson. “She demands high standards. Safety’s very important to her. She’s pretty much a pillar of doing everything right.”

According to Torgerson, Peterson brings a lot more to the Red Cross than conscientiousness. Torgerson describes Peterson as a colleague who’s always friendly, always ready with a joke or a laugh – someone liable to dance to enliven blood drives, a co-worker with boundless energy who puts donors at ease.

For the Mankato-based Peterson and the other Southwest Minnesota staff who run the Red Cross’ blood drives, that brand of high-energy is a prized commodity.

They are “mobile phlebotomists,” which means Peterson and her co-workers travel a vast territory that dips west in South Dakota and as far east as southern Wisconsin to collect the blood that will save lives.

“It’s nomadic work,” says Torgerson.

A typical blood drive will require staff to set up in the morning at a high school or community center, perform dozens of blood draws, tend to woozy (“Someone always passes our or pukes,” says Peterson), pack up in the evening after anywhere from 10 to 14 hours, ship off the blood samples to St. Paul, retire to a hotel and then it’s off to the next site.

As hard as it is to be away from her kids, Peterson says she’s found a personal calling, one that’s seen her ascend from newbie to a “lead” – one of the people in charge of running blood drives.

“I lost my brother to cancer a year ago, so blood donations to me are so personally important. I’m doing an important job and my kids know I’m doing an important job,” says Peterson.

Peterson says first-time donors are her favorite donors.

“I like to walk them through the process,” she says. “The needle’s not as big as your brain’s imagining it to be.”

But Peterson also loves her regulars, the people she sees time and again at blood draws.

“I know these people’s stories. I know why they’re donating,” she says.  “I have a lot of donors whose kids needed this, or someone saved their mother or grandmother. People are paying things back in a way. They’re such heartwarming stories.”

So, what might have been an annoying digital pop-up has led to a career for Ashley Peterson – and a new family. Peterson says that in addition to her Red Cross family, she now counts her AFSCME family (she’s the newly minted shop steward of Local 3931) as equally important to her.

And, according to Torgerson, both those families feel lucky to have her as a leader.

Never Quit Service Award

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