“Be a blood and organ donor. All it costs is a little love.” -Author Unknown
According to the Mayo Clinic, at least 25 percent of all Americans will need blood at least once in their lifetime. The American Red Cross states that someone on the U.S. needs blood every two seconds, with more than 38,000 blood donations needed every day.
Despite such grim statistics, only 5 percent of eligible donors across the nation donate blood. This January, everybody can make a difference by participating in National Blood Donor Month.
National Recognition for January
Since 1970, January has been recognized as National Blood Donor Month. Blood supplies are traditionally short throughout the winter months for a number of reasons. Holiday travel schedules and vacations, inclement weather and illness all contribute. Activity at blood donation centers is particularly slow in January. This often poses a challenging situation for blood banks, as the shelf life of blood is relatively short.
Colleen O’Callaghan, a donor recruitment representative from the American Red Cross, states, “We have to consistently recycle. If we don’t have a good collection every single day we could have a hospital underserved. One donation can help up to three people.”
Few blood centers have the capability to maintain more than a three-day supply of blood used for transfusions. The ‘baby boomer’ generation accounts for most of all blood donations throughout the nation. However, this population segment is approaching an age where medications and health issues may keep them from being able to donate. At the same time, this group is also the largest cohort of the world, and many require more donated blood for their own health. This uses much of the supply to which they once contributed.
Such activity demonstrates that even when supplies are low, the need is still high. FEMA Regional Administrator Ken Murphy states, “Approximately 40,000 units of red blood are needed every day. Donating blood is a safe, life-saving and selfless gift that enhances the level of preparedness for each and every community in this nation.”
The Process of Giving Blood
The Red Cross explains that donations take approximately 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the donation type. Donating platelets, red cells or plasma may take longer. Once at a blood bank, a donor must register and complete a health history with mini physical. According to the Red Cross, about one pint of blood and several small test tubes are collected from each donor. The blood is then labeled and stored in ice coolers before transport to a Red Cross center.
At the center, blood is scanned into a computer database and usually spun in centrifuges to separate the red cells, platelets and plasma. Blood is then tested in one of five Red Cross National Testing Laboratories across the nation. Technicians determine the blood type and look for infectious diseases. If a supply tests positive, the donor is notified and the blood discarded.
Platelets, red cells and plasma are stored individually. These supplies are available for shipping to hospitals 24 hours a day, seven days per week. On average, a hospital only keeps blood for around three days before it is used to save patient lives.
Reasons to Give
Although the primary reason to give blood is to save lives, many people do not realize the incredible statistics that accompany this process. For example, a total of 30 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S. The blood type most often requested by hospitals is Type O, and a single car accident victim may require as many as 100 pints of blood. In addition, more than 1 million new people are also diagnosed with cancer each year. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during chemotherapy treatment.
To become involved with National Blood Donor Month, people can look on the American Red Cross website for local blood bank and volunteer information. Community newspapers may also post the operating hours of some blood donor centers. In an effort to ramp up participation, some areas are even sponsoring regional promotions. In New York and Pennsylvania, for example, blood donors receive a pound of Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee with each supply given throughout the month of January.