I hope you'll read this article and it will inspire you to go out and donate blood. I know writing it inspired me. I'm signed up to donate tomorrow (even though I usually feel pretty gosh-darned horrible afterward). Please comment on your experiences with blood donation - I'd love to hear from you!
Blood donation facts
Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. One donation can potentially save up to 3 lives.
6.8 million people in the U.S. donate blood each year.
45% of people have type O blood (higher among Hispanics and African Americans) and this is the blood type most often requested.
The average transfusion is approximately 3 units.
Who can donate blood?
Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental consent where allowed by law – this is in most states), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health. There is no maximum age restriction. Whole blood can be donated every 56 days.
A Power Red donation is a way to safely donate two units of blood during one donation session. Your plasma and platelets are returned to you during this donation process. This can be done every 112 days up to 3 times/year. Requirements for Power Red donations are more restrictive.
Common Reasons People Can’t Donate
Cold, flu and other illness – if you don’t feel well, reschedule
Medications: there are restrictions for some medications like aspirin, some vaccinations, Accutane, Proscar, Avodart or Coumadin. If you have ever used bovine (beef) insulin made from cattle from the United Kingdom since 1980, you are not eligible to donate due to concerns about mad cow disease. Check HERE to find out the requirements for medications.
Low iron: iron levels are not checked, but hemoglobin levels are. If your hemoglobin is too low to donate, you may be able to donate in the future. Your hemoglobin must be a minimum of 12.5 g/dL for females and 13 g/dL for males.
Travel outside the U.S.: You may be deferred from donating blood or platelets if you have lived in or traveled to a malaria-risk country in the past three years. There’s no blood test for malaria, so the only way to be sure is to screen travel. If you have Zika virus, you must wait more than 120 days after symptoms resolve to donate. If you have ever had Ebola, you are not eligible to donate.
Where Malaria is Found
Where to donate? The Red Cross provides about 40% of the blood in the U.S but you can also donate at America's Blood Centers and Vitalant (formerly United Blood Services). Regional organizations can be found by state HERE.
Download the Blood Donor App so that after your first donation, you can use the digital donor card to scan in at registration. You’ll answer a few questions about your health and medication history, including where you’ve traveled. They will take your temperature, pulse, blood pressure and hemoglobin level.
For collecting whole blood, they insert a sterile needle for the blood draw and they’ll take several small tubes for testing before hooking you up to the collection bag (for platelets they typically use an apheresis machine connected to both arms). It takes about 8-10 minutes to donate a pint, and afterward, you’ll get a colorful bandage on your arm. Platelet collection can take about 2 hours. You have to sit and snack for 10-15 minutes afterward before leaving as you bask in the glow of knowing you’ve helped save a life.
What happens to my blood?
The donation/test tubes and donor records are labeled and kept on ice. The test tubes go to a lab where they are tested for infectious diseases and blood type. The test results are sent electronically to the blood processing center (this takes about 24 hours). Meanwhile, the blood goes to the processing center. Whole blood is spun in a centrifuge to separate it into red cells, platelets and plasma. They remove as many of the white cells as possible in a process called leuko-reducing to lower the chances of an allergic reaction to the blood. If test results are positive, the donation is discarded and you will be notified confidentially. Suitable units are stored: red cells go in refrigerators for up to 42 days, platelets are at room temperature on agitators for up to 5 days, plasma can be frozen for up to one year!
How is donated blood used?
There are multiple reasons a patient might need a transfusion. As an oncology nurse, we typically gave blood to folks suffering from anemia related to chemotherapy. I’ve transfused people who were walking around with a hemoglobin level of 4 after chemo destroyed all their red blood cells. It amazes me what the human body can tolerate. Serious injuries like car crashes, surgeries, childbirth and blood disorders are other reasons for blood transfusions.
Cancer patients tend to need platelets more than anything else. When the count falls below 150,000, the risk for bleeding out increases. I’ve run platelets for patients with platelet values as low as 10,000. For folks with levels that low, they can start bleeding even if not injured. 1.7 million people may be diagnosed with cancer in 2017. Many will need blood during chemotherapy.
Trauma and surgery patients tend to need red cells and AB Elite (a type of plasma that can help stop bleeding). A single car accident victim may need as many as 100 pints of blood.
Sickle cell patients need whole blood, especially from African-American donors since they require multiple transfusions. O negative blood is desperately needed for these folks. Sickle cell disease affects 90,000 to 100,000 people in the U.S.
Burn patients use AB Elite. AB positive or negative plasma donations can make a huge impact on burn victims survival
What is the history behind blood donation?
1628 - William Harvey discovered the circulation of blood and the first blood transfusion was attempted soon afterward, but transfusion wasn’t successful until 1665 when Richard Lower kept a dog alive by transfusing blood from other dogs.
1667 - blood was successfully transfused from sheep to humans
1818 - first successful transfusion of human blood to a patient for treating postpartum hemorrhage.
1901 - human blood types were discovered and cross matching was first done in 1907.
1914 - long term anticoagulants like sodium citrate used to preserve blood
1940 - Rh blood group system discovered, U.S. government establishes a national blood collection program.
1941 - Red Cross begins National Blood Donor Service to collect blood for the military
1947 - ABO blood typing and syphilis testing performed on each unit of blood
1948 - Red cross begins to collect blood for civilians
1957 - American Association of Blood Banks formed
1961 - Platelets used to reduce hemorrhage in cancer patients
1964 - Plasmapherisis invented for collecting plasma
1971 - Testing for Hep B begins
1978 - FDA requires blood to be labeled as paid or volunteer
1983 - First warning about AIDS, testing begins in 1985
There is a critical shortage right now, so please consider giving the gift of life.
Schedule an appointment today at Red Cross Blood or 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767)
If you can’t donate, you can always volunteer at a blood drive.