Stories from Donors
By Fia Curley
Sadly, many times people's awakening to the need for blood donations comes through tragedy: a child with a life-threatening disease, a husband dying of cancer, a premature baby who may not make it.
But blood banks across the United States use every opportunity to remind us that the need for blood transfusions is not daily, not even hourly…in fact, every second there is a need for a life saving unit of blood somewhere in our country.
During the National Blood Donor Month, blood banks double their awareness efforts to lure possible donors to help increase waning blood supplies.
“We certainly hope the nice weather will encourage people to come out,” said Katie McGuire, spokeswoman for the Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Blood Services Region of the American Red Cross.”
The branch conducts about 25 blood drives daily, with goals of obtaining 1,000 units, because blood is needed every two seconds. To ensure that people make it out to donate, McGuire said the branch has varied their tactics when it comes to enticing potential donors.
“We try to do a lot to grab people's attention,” McGuire said. “We find that incentives do work. We hope people come out and donate from the goodness of their hearts and to save a life, but our ultimate goal is to get people out to give blood.”
After a person donates a unit of blood, it is collected, tested, processed and distributed to area hospitals, ready to be used within about 48 hours.
According to AABB, the American Association of Blood Banks, each unit of blood is taken and separated into its components. Red blood cells can be stored in refrigeration for at least 42 days and frozen for up to 10 years. These blood cells carry oxygen and are used to fight anemia. Platelets help blood clot properly and are used to treat cancer patients. They can be stored at room temperature and last up to seven days.
Plasma is the clear liquid in blood that is made up of 90 percent water while 10 percent contains vitamins, minerals, hormones and 200 other substances. The liquid carries these substances throughout the body and when frozen, plasma can be stored up to one year.
However blood has a shelf life of 42 days, creating a demand around the holidays and during the summer. In both instances, McGuire said, people's schedules can be hectic and students are out of school, making it harder to tap potential student donors.
People who are 17 and older and weigh at least 110 pounds are eligible to give blood. However, the eligibility status may change for individuals with certain health conditions or who may have spent time outside of the U.S.
It is estimated that only five percent of the eligible American population donates blood. From that group, about 10 percent are minorities. The participation of minority groups is important because they have greater numbers of blood types O and B than Caucasians, according to the Massachusetts General Hospital . However, type O is the most common blood type among Americans. An increase in minority donors would ultimately increase supplies used to treat patients with sickle cell anemia who regularly need blood transfusions.
“It's important that our donor population reflects our patient population,” she said, adding that 37 percent of the population is African-American, compared to the 8 to 9 percent of the donors being African American. “We're really trying to reach out to donors and to that population and encourage African-Americans to come out.”
The Red Cross views the need as crucial because one out of 12 African Americans is diagnosed with sickle cell anemia. Patients who receive blood transfusions from donors with the same antigens, (Rh-negative or Rh-positive) and similar race and ethnic groups have a better chance of survival.
Blood can be accepted from donors every 56 days, giving the donor's body a chance to replenish the blood donated and reach the average 10 to 12 pints of blood carried by humans. Besides whole blood, donors can also schedule appointments to donate platelets.
To encourage and increase the donor population, McGuire is focused on eliminating deterrents.
“Some people are afraid; some people don't know the process,” she said. “What we have to do is educate people and make it as easy possible.”
Fia Curley is a writer for the OMHRC. Comments? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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