Blood banks across the country view the holidays in a different way than everyone else. With all of the festivities going on, blood donations drop precariously but the need is greater than ever. Donating blood is the greatest gift you can give all year long and here’s why.
First, some statistics.
- Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. A car accident victim can require up to 100 pints of blood.
- People with conditions such as sickle cell anemia require blood transfusions throughout their lives, and the average transfusion uses three pints of blood.
- The Red Cross collects 15.7 millions blood donations from 9.2 millions donors annually.
- Of the estimated 38% of eligible donors, only 10% donate blood.
- A single donation of blood can help three different people.
- The most common blood type is O.
- O negative blood is a “universal donor,” which means that it works for all other types of blood. Only 7% of people in the U.S. are O-negative. This type of blood is used most frequently in emergencies when blood type is not known or for newborns.
And what about the donors?
The majority of donors give because they want to help other people. A donor who donates regularly from age 17 until the age of 76 will donate 48 gallons of blood, potentially helping 1,000 people. Donors are divided evenly between men and women, and 50% of donors donate regularly. A healthy person can donate red blood cells every 56 days, or double red cells every 112.
Types of donations
There are four main types of donation.
- Blood (also known as whole blood): This is the most common blood donation and what most people think of when they think of donating blood. The process takes about an hour, with the actual donation only lasting about eight minutes.
- Double red: Two pints of red cells are taken from the donor in this type of donation. Because of this, there are height and weight requirements that must be met (at least 5’2” and 150 pounds). This process takes about an hour, and donors can give every 112 days.
- Plasma: Plasma is collected simultaneously with a whole blood donation, and this takes about 75 minutes. It takes four pints of whole blood to get one pint of plasma, so a direct plasma donation is very valuable.
- Platelets: This type of donation is not available at every donation center because it requires a special machine. Donating platelets takes one and a half to two hours. Blood is collected, then the platelets and some plasma are separated out and returned to the donor.
There are two other types of blood donations that are less common. Autologous and directed donations are given either for the donor’s personal use or for the use of a specific person, as in a family member. These require prescriptions prior to the donation.
The need for blood tends to spike during major holidays, but donors tend to take a break from donating blood at the same time. Typically blood donations fall off sharply during the period between Halloween and New Year’s Eve by sometimes as much as 50%. With Thanksgiving being the busiest travel day of the year, this drop in blood donations leaves many blood banks and hospitals in precariously short supply.
Gregg Fusto, a registered nurse and director of University Medical Center’s trauma and burn services in Las Vegas had this to say about the “seasonal” nature of the rise in holiday injuries:
“We see anywhere from 900 to 1,000 patients a month normally, and it trends for the holiday season. Starting the week before Thanksgiving, we’ll probably go up a hundred extra patients.”
“Every year there is a blood shortage,” adds physician John Henner, chief operating officer of Fremont Emergency Services and chairman of emergency medicine for Dignity Health. “Every single year.”
Many regular donors go out of town during the holidays, and while they are traveling or at their destination, there is a rise in injuries, from car accidents to burns to broken bones from sledding. This is on top of regular demands from patients undergoing chemotherapy or surgery.
The need for new donors is greater than ever, but there are restrictions in place for blood donors. The basic qualifications and restrictions for whole blood donations include the following.
You must be generally healthy and feeling well
This qualification does not automatically disqualify a chronic pain patient from donating. Days when you are feeling less pain and have not taken any prescription or over-the-counter medications are good days to go donate blood. From the Red Cross website, they say that:
“Healthy means that you feel well and can perform normal activities. If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, healthy also means that you are being treated and the condition is under control.”
So a chronic condition does not mean you can’t be a donor!
You must be at least 17
Some states allow 16-year-olds to donate with parental consent.
You must weigh at least 110 pounds
There are different weight requirements for younger donors, but 110 is the minimum for adults over age 18.
Before each donation, technicians will take your pulse, blood pressure, and temperature and check your iron levels. You will answer a series of confidential questions regarding your personal activities, travel, and general health. There are many reasons why you may not be authorized to donate blood. If you are deferred from donating blood, it may be due to medications you are taking or travel to certain countries. Many of these require a waiting period, but some conditions prevent you from donating permanently. Chronic pain is not necessarily one of these conditions, but talk to your doctor before donating.
If you are cleared to donate, drink plenty of water and eat regular meals on the day of your donation. Plan a restful day following your donation and continue to drink plenty of fluids and eat well. If it is your first time donating blood, consider having someone go with you for support. Once at the donation center, the technicians will take care of you and do everything they can to make sure you are comfortable and the donation goes smoothly.
If you are deferred from donating or are not able to donate permanently, you can still help spread the word about the value of donating blood and the need for donors by sending an e-card to family and friends. You can even help host a local blood drive or become a volunteer.
Locate a blood donation center near you, and give the gift of life this holiday season; donate blood!
Image by Peltier Chevrolet via Flickr