If a complete stranger needed your help to save his life, with no danger to your own, would you help him? What if that help required being poked with a needle? Every four minutes, someone in local hospitals receives a blood transfusion. About 95% of us will receive blood or blood components by the time we reach the age of 72. And yet, less than five percent of local eligible donors actually give blood. Today I would like to talk to you about why blood banking is important, and what is involved in the blood donation process.
Many people do not give blood because they feel it is only necessary to donate if you cannot afford the costs of blood transfusions. While most insurance policies do cover this, the blood has to come from somewhere! All the money in the world will not create blood-it must come from eligible donors. Only 40% of the US population is eligible, so the needs of everyone is met by a small portion of the population. As an example: Bloodsource, a blood bank which provides blood for 18 counties and 40 hospitals in Northern California, needs to collect 450 pints of blood each day to keep up with the demand. In addition, blood and its components must be used within a few weeks of donation.
The most common type of donation is whole blood, which is used in surgeries and for trauma victims who have lost a lot of blood. It can also be broken down into its components to help as many as three patients with one donation.
The first component is plasma, which acts as a carrier for blood cells and nutrients. It is needed by burn patients, accident victims, and some organ transplant recipients. The next component is platelets. These are small cells in the bloodstream that help the clotting process. These are usually needed for trauma victims, marrow transplant recipients and leukemia and cancer patients. Platelet donations only last for five days, so there is a constant demand. Then of course, we also have red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body, and white blood cells, which fight infection. You can also join the bone marrow donation program to help patients with blood diseases. There is a particularly high need for members of minority groups to donate bone marrow, because there aren’t enough people in the program to meet patient needs.
The Donation Process
If you decide to make one of these types of donations, you can call your local blood bank and make an appointment or see if there is a blood drive happening in your area. Be sure to eat iron-rich foods for at least three days before you donate, and drink plenty of fluids (non-caffeinated) for about 24 hours before. Each time you donate, you will be given a brief interview where they will ask you some questions about your health history, what medications you take, etc. They will take your blood pressure and pulse, and take a drop of blood from your fingertip to check your hematocrit level to see if you are anemic-and that is the most painful part of the whole process! The actual blood drawing is not that bad-there is a small prick from the needle, but that does not last, and the donation only takes about five to fifteen minutes.
After you are done with your blood draw, you will stay in the refreshment area for about fifteen minutes to have juice and snacks-and some blood banks even give you dinner. You often get some sort of premium for showing up for your appointment, even if for some reason you cannot donate that day-my favorite is a free pint of Baskin Robbins ice cream, but I have also gotten discount coupons for services and free tickets to the local Home and Garden show. You also get prizes for donating multiple times or during high-need periods-I have received t-shirts, pens, and keychains.
Blood donation is very rewarding. Many lives are saved every day due to donations from people like you and me. There are a variety of ways you can help: you can donate whole blood, platelets or plasma, or even bone marrow. If you are not eligible to donate, you can volunteer in one of the donation centers or make monetary donations to the research center. There is no substitute for blood, so we need all the help we can get.