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Blood donation needed more than ever—but fewer people donating

Paoli Hospital September 18, 2018 General Wellness

You may have seen the ads.

To bring awareness to the fact that new blood donors have declined by 80,000 each year, the campaign reads: _meric_n Red Cr_ss – Help us fill the missing blood types. The plea from the Red Cross is to donate blood (A, B and O being the most common types) because every two seconds someone in the United States needs it—yet fewer than ever are giving these days. The number is even more staggering when you consider that—of the 38 percent of the population eligible to give blood—only 10 percent is donating on an annual basis.

One unit of blood (one donation) can save up to three people.

“When someone is severely injured and admitted to the trauma service, and friends and family are asking what they can do to help right now, I always mention that they can go to donate blood,” says Kerry Larkin, MSN, RN, CEN, trauma program manager at Paoli Hospital, part of Main Line Health. Larkin emphasizes that there’s always a blood supply shortage and that there have been motor vehicle accident patients who have used over 50 units (pints) of blood in less than 24 hours. “That’s 50 people that went out of their way to donate, and that’s what’s needed, on a regular basis.”

Why is it important to donate blood?

Because blood donation saves lives every day in numerous ways. Consider the following types of people who might need blood transfusions:

  • A car accident victim
  • A cancer patient
  • A NICU baby
  • A person living with sickle cell disease
  • A person undergoing major cardiac surgery

Now consider the people in your life who may have needed blood while in the hospital and also consider that you might need it yourself one day. Giving blood is a way of giving back—and paying it forward.

Blood donation guidelines

There are many people who cannot donate blood for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s personal or religious while in other cases it’s because they don’t meet the blood donation eligibility requirements set forth by the American Red Cross.

In the state of Pennsylvania, you must be at least 16 years old* to donate blood. You must be feeling well and in general good health, and you must weigh more than 110 pounds.

You may be required to defer blood donation (wait for a certain period of time) if any of these circumstances apply to you:

  • You have a fever or productive cough or you’re generally not feeling well the day of donation.
  • You are taking antibiotics or could potentially have a bacterial infection that can be transmitted via blood.
  • You are taking certain types of medications that require a waiting period after the last dose.
  • Your hemoglobin is too low, which is often the case in people with iron-deficient anemia. (Hemoglobin levels are checked on the spot before blood donation.)
  • You have been exposed to malaria either by traveling or living in a country where malaria is found, or you have been treated for malaria.
*Signed parental consent form needed for this age group

Take a moment to check the requirements for blood donation and make an appointment to donate blood.

Where to give blood near me

Throughout the United States and on every day of the week, there are blood drives being held at schools, churches, fitness centers, health centers, hospitals and corporate offices. During times of extreme weather such as hurricane season, blood drives in storm-torn areas may be canceled or rescheduled, making it even more important to donate in non-impacted areas. Larkin suggests going with a friend or going as a group.

On the American Red Cross website, you can find a blood drive or host a blood drive yourself which is a great way to contribute, especially if you are not eligible to give blood.

Plan to be at your blood donation appointment for approximately one hour. This includes a preliminary “mini physical,” blood draw, and time to relax and recover while enjoying some juice and cookies.

Facts and myths about blood donation

There are some myths about blood donation as well as some valid concerns. A few of the common blood donation myths include:

  • I could get AIDS from blood donation.
    This is false. A new needle is used for each blood donor. There is no risk of contracting AIDS or any other communicable disease when you donate blood.
  • I can’t give blood because I’m vegetarian or vegan.
    This is false. The myth is based on the assumption that people who consume a plant-based diet do not have enough iron in their blood. As long as you are not anemic (or are being sufficiently treated with iron supplements and iron-rich food intake), you can donate blood. If you are anemic, you can defer blood donation until your body has sufficient iron.
  • They can always manufacture blood if needed.
    This is false. There is no way to make blood. It must be provided by human donors like you.
  • I’ve had cancer so I can’t give blood.
    It depends. For certain types of cancer, you may be disqualified from giving blood. However, many people who have had cancer may be eligible for blood donation after waiting for a period of time after treatment.
  • I can’t give blood because I have tattoos.
    This is false. Having tattoos does not exclude you from blood donation eligibility. Depending on when you got the tattoo, and where, you will be required to wait for a certain period of time after getting it. Many people with tattoos are successful blood donors.

Some people simply have a hard time with needles or have a fear of fainting during blood donation. For people who have a fear of needles, keep in mind that the needle prick happens quickly and the actual blood donation process is usually over in less than 20 minutes. You could think of it as minor and temporary physical discomfort for the sake of saving a person’s life. “It really is that impactful when you donate a unit of blood,” adds Larkin. “Your donation is precious.”

For those with a concern about fainting, it helps to make sure you’ve eaten well and had fluids beforehand. Don’t show up hungry and already feeling faint or queasy. Your blood pressure and temperature will be checked beforehand and you’ll be able to sit or lie comfortably during blood donation. You’ll also enjoy a snack and a beverage at the blood donation site immediately after you’ve donated. Be sure to avoid rigorous activity for the rest of the day.

Keep in mind that we each have approximately ten pints of blood circulating through our bodies and the amount you will donate is approximately one pint. Your body will regenerate this lost blood, often in no more than a day.

Blood types and donation

The eight most common blood types are: A+, A-, B+, B-, O+, O-, AB+, AB-, and there are hundreds of rare blood types. The pluses and minuses indicate the presence or absence of a specific antigen, which is a substance that can trigger an immune response to the transfused blood if it’s not carefully matched.

O+ is the most common type of blood and it is in the shortest supply. No matter what your blood type, however, your blood is needed. Depending on your blood type, you may also be a candidate for donation of platelets, concentrated red cells, and plasma.

Many people in the United States first learn of their blood type when they go to donate blood because this information is not commonly known or provided unless there’s a need for blood transfusion.

Schedule a blood donation appointment today or find an upcoming blood drive at Main Line Health. The life you save could well be your own.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.