Never Feel Helpless Again

By Kristine Hartvigsen on June 14th, 2017

It’s the most frustrating, gut-wrenching feeling. People are in urgent medical need, and you don’t have the clinical skills or certifications to help. But there is always something you can do. And it’s even better if you do it regularly and not just during times of crisis.

What can you do? Give blood. Give now. Give often.

That’s the theme for this year’s World Blood Donor Day, June 14.

Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood or blood products. An estimated 36,000 units of red blood cells daily are needed to meet the need. Certainly not everyone is eligible to donate, but 38% of the population is. Yet less than 10% of these people actually donate, even when the mobile donation vehicles come to their workplace, church, shopping mall, or community center.

The need is constant, because blood is perishable. It has a refrigerated shelf life of about 35-42 days. There are no substitutes for human blood. It cannot be manufactured.

There are many medical events requiring life-saving blood transfusions. Someone with severe trauma injuries from such things as car accidents or gunshot wounds may need as many as 100 pints of blood. But did you know that people who suffer from such conditions as severe anemia, hemophilia, sickle cell disease, and various forms of cancer also need blood and blood products such as platelets or plasma on a regular basis.

Women who develop pregnancy complications such as ectopic pregnancy or obstetric hemorrhage also may need blood transfusions before, during, or after giving birth. The variety of needs for blood and blood products is exhaustive.

To be eligible to donate blood, a person must be in good health, at least 17 years of age (in most states), and weigh at least 110 pounds. It doesn’t take long — usually about 30 minutes from start to finish — and the process is simple:

  • Present valid identification, driver’s license, or blood donor card.
  • Answer some confidential screening questions about your health and travel history.
  • Have your vital signs and hemoglobin level checked (usually with a quick finger prick).
  • Sit in a comfortable, semi-reclining chair and have your arms inspected for the best vein (or you can voice your arm preference). That part of your skin will be disinfected.
  • A sterile needle will be inserted with IV tubing to draw blood. You will feel a quick pinch but it is over quickly. You may be given a small object to squeeze to stimulate blood flow.
  • Recline for 8-10 minutes while blood is collected into a hanging bag.
  • When finished, a bandage will be placed over the IV area. Remain onsite for 10-15 minutes while enjoying a provided snack and drink.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water and avoid strenuous exercise for the rest of the day.

All blood types are needed, and some are more rare and difficult to obtain. There are eight blood types: A, B, AB, and O, with each being either rh positive or negative. The type most often requested by hospitals is Type O-, the universal donor type. It can be safely transplanted into anyone. If an emergency medical team does not know your blood type, they automatically will use 0-.

If you do not know your blood type, your personal physician can discuss testing you for blood type. You also can find out your type simply by donating. If you donate with The Red Cross, you will receive a donor card in the mail that lists your blood type.

When you donate blood, your body replaces its blood plasma within about 24 hours. Your body needs 4-6 weeks, however, to replenish red cells. For this reason, you must wait at least eight weeks between whole blood donations.

Your dedicated first-responders will tell you it is a great feeling to save a life. If you really think about it, when you donate blood, you essentially are a “first first-responder.” Call them whatever you like; blood donors are heroes in our book.

This blog provides general information and discussion about healthcare-related subjects. The content and linked materials provided are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader is an expectant mother with a medical concern, she should consult with an appropriately licensed physician or healthcare provider.


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