A Lifer’s perspective on donating blood
Altruism (noun): “the selfless regard for the well-being of others.”
Although it may be expressed differently by different people, altruism is a belief that perfectly describes the actions taken by the less than 10% of Americans who donate blood each year.
Physician William Harvey attempted the first blood transfusion in 1628 and since then, hundreds of thousands of people have donated blood. But according to the Community Blood Center, 4.5 million Americans are in need of blood transfusions every year, which translates to someone needing blood every two seconds. Blood shortages are a common occurrence.
As I continue to read U.S. statistics regarding the need for donated blood, how many lives it can save, and how it can even benefit the donor, I ask myself, “What is preventing healthy, capable people from donating their blood to help others?”
In an effort to raise that 10%, I have decided to take you along my journey as I donate blood at the American Red Cross truck stationed in the Culver’s parking lot in Valparaiso, and give you some information along the way.
Where to go and how it works
Visit the American Red Cross page here and type in your zip code to find the nearest location that accepts blood. Blood drives happen nearly every day all around Northwest Indiana. Schedule an appointment when you are feeling healthy and free of any symptoms of illness, such as cold, flu, fever, etc.
Before donating, it’s best to stay hydrated and eat a meal to prevent dizziness. However, most centers provide snacks and drinks for your comfort. Bring a picture ID and try to wear a loose-fitting shirt that can roll-up easily for the technician to find the correct spot on your arm.
The staff will help you get set-up once you arrive. After you answer some questions about your medical history and recent experiences, the technician will then perform a quick physical assessment of your blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and hemoglobin level to ensure that all are suitable for donation. This will take at most 15 minutes.
Next, the technician will have you sit down and roll-up your sleeve. They will look for a good vein on your arm near the crook of your elbow. The small poke of the needle feels like a quick pinch that goes away in a few seconds. The process of withdrawing your blood will then start and continue for another 8-10 minutes, and you should not feel any pain. Your only job is to keep your arm still and let the machines do their magic! If the sight of blood makes you nervous, let the technician know and they can accommodate accordingly.
The goal is to take 1 pint of blood. After it’s been collected, take it easy for the next 10 minutes and avoid strenuous, physical activity for the next few hours. Most often, you will feel refreshed after just a few minutes. Keep the bandage on your arm for a few hours as well.
From my experience, I have found the only con to be slight tenderness at the spot where blood was taken. This goes away in a day or two, and is completely worth it for the awesome pro of donating: knowing your blood is going to someone in need.
When all is complete, you are able to donate again in eight weeks!
Donating requirements and eligibility
With only 37% of Americans being able to donate due to health and lifestyle reasons, it’s important to figure out whether you are eligible. The following are a few crucial factors listed by the American Red Cross that must be satisfied for donation:
- Must be at least 17 years old (some locations allow you to donate at 16 with a guardian’s consent)
- Must weigh at least 110 pounds
- Must have a blood pressure under 180/100 at the time of donation (blood pressure medication does not disqualify you)
Some factors may prevent you from donating and are assessed at the time of donation:
- Travel to certain countries within the past year may be unaccepted. For more detailed information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention..
- Any use of self-injected, non-prescription drugs with needles
- Anyone with a positive test for HIV (AIDS) or hepatitis
- Men who have engaged with other men at any time since 1977
- Anyone who has gotten a tattoo within the past year
- Anyone with a tongue, nose, belly button, or genital piercing is not permitted (donors with ear piercings are accepted)
- If you do not feel well or have an infection, you should wait until antibiotic treatments are finished to donate.
- Chronic conditions, such as diabetes, are typically able to donate as long as symptoms are under control or regulated with medication.
For more specific requirements regarding medication use, vaccinations, or general health concerns, read the American Red Cross’ criteria here.
Where blood is needed
Blood transfusions are done to make up for a loss of blood in your body. They are needed where you may expect for procedures like organ transplants or surgeries, but they are also crucial if someone has been in a car accident or other traumatic accident, or is suffering from diseases like sickle cell, kidney or liver disease, or hemophilia. Severe infections in the body can also cause someone to need a blood transfusion to replenish them with healthy blood. Patients with cancer who have undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatments may also need a blood transfusion.
The list could continue for all the different ways in which blood is needed. The main thing to keep in mind is that as more people donate, it increases the amount of different blood types available for transfusions, which eases the stress of searching for the right blood type for a patient in need.
How the donor can benefit
Believe it or not, donating blood doesn’t just give sick patients a better chance at life. It can actually improve yours, too.
The donation process involves a short physical exam of your basic vitals: pulse, blood pressure, temperature, and hemoglobin level. Every pint of blood donated is tested for 13 different infectious diseases, which, in turn, provides every serious potential blood donor with valuable information they can then share with their own healthcare provider.
When you lose a unit of blood, your body begins to replenish it in the weeks following donation. As shared by the American Cancer Society, your body works to create more iron in your blood to return to its normal level. Too much or too little iron can be unhealthy for your blood vessels; thus, this regulation of iron helps train your body to stay at a healthy level.
Lastly, the gratification that I feel after donating is enough encouragement to keep me going back for another appointment. It can be fulfilling to know that you are capable of doing something so life-changing for someone you don’t even know. That feeling of pride is a pretty great benefit as a donor.
- Adults have around 10 pints of blood in their bodies, and only 1 pint is donated
- Just 1 donation can save up to 3 lives
- A single-car accident victim can require at most 100 pints of blood
- Much of today’s medical care depends on a steady supply of blood from healthy donors
- Blood and platelets cannot be manufactured for patients who need them, they can only be obtained from volunteer donors
- Shortages of blood types tend to happen during the winter holidays
- 46.5 gallons: the amount of blood you could donate if you begin at age 17 and donate every 56 days until you reach 79 years old
- Four easy steps: medical history, quick physical, donation, and snacks/fluids
- It takes about 10 minutes to collect your blood, but the whole process including paperwork is done in under an hour
- You will not contract AIDS by donating blood
Donating blood may be a small sacrifice, but it can make a big difference, and the need for blood around the country is always there. Whether it be a mass tragedy that urges you to donate to help those in need or to simply show an act of kindness, schedule an appointment today - you won’t regret it.