It was Hayden Giebler’s 17th birthday, and the Hays High School junior decided to celebrate in an unconventional way.

He could be found Wednesday afternoon at Big Creek Crossing, 2918 Vine, donating blood to the American Red Cross "Battle of the Badges" blood drive. The event continues from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at the former Vanity storefront.

“It’s pretty neat to help people out,” Giebler said of why he decided to spend his birthday gifting blood to those in need.

The teenager already has donated blood six times, but Wednesday was the first time he was able to do so independently. American Red Cross allows 16-year-olds to donate with parental consent.

The blood drive allows donors to vote for local law enforcement agencies, EMS or fire departments, with the winner receiving “bragging rights.”

Both Giebler and his friend, Taylor Schiffelbein — who also donated blood together for Giebler’s 16th birthday last year — decided to vote for EMS. Schiffelbein was in a car accident last summer and said she was grateful for paramedics’ quick response.

Schiffelbein also is quick to donate blood when she is able, noting she received eight blood transfusions during a severe illness as a toddler.

“When I was 2, I had E. Coli and I had to get eight different blood transfusions, so I’ve donated ever since then when I could,” she said.

The bacterial illness advanced to the point she experienced kidney failure, and spent a prolonged amount of time in a Kansas City hospital to receive treatment. She said she still remembers parts of the experience — including her birthday being spent in the hospital.

Blood donations collected in the Hays area can be shared with more than 100 Kansas hospitals.

All donors will receive a complimentary American Red Cross shirt and a chance to win a flat-screen television.

Traffic was steady Wednesday afternoon, but more donors are needed to help replenish the regional blood supply — especially as the demand for blood transfusions seems to increase during winter months, said Bill Dinkel, a regional account manager with American Red Cross.

“All blood drives are important to us. But this time of year, people get very busy with the holidays, and then too we have people with seasonal illnesses,” he said. “And so keeping blood on the shelf can be a challenge.”

The Red Cross has its “power red” machines on hand for the Battle of the Badges drive, meaning staff can process many blood donations on site. That allows donors to keep their platelets and plasma, and increases the red blood cell concentration in the collected blood — meaning donors give the equivalent of two regular donations at one time.

The donated blood also is checked immediately to ensure it is safe for hospital use. The option only is feasible for donors with certain blood types.

“The advantages to the donor are the needle’s a little smaller. We re-hydrate them as they’re donating, so they leave a little more hydrated than when they came in,” Dinkel said. “From our hospitals’ standpoint, the greater concentration of those red blood cells are very important for hospitals. And the blood is ready to go.”