Why Donating Blood Might Be The Most Important Thing You Do

A nurse draws blood from a patient in a blood donation clinic

Since 1970, January has been Blood Donor month, which is no coincidence. Winter is the most difficult time of year for getting donations because inclement weather or illnesses such as the flu force donors to cancel appointments. Blood cannot be manufactured, so it is critical that those who can donate do.

No matter the time of year, hospitals nationwide need about 44,000 blood donations daily for cancer care, surgeries, the treatment of serious diseases and trauma. Donors of all blood types are needed, especially those with O-negative, A-negative and B-negative blood types. With a shelf-life of only 42 days, red blood cells must be constantly replenished to maintain a fresh, adequate supply for patients.

Where does my blood donation go?

Approximately one pint and several test tubes of blood are collected from the donor, labeled, and stored in an iced cooler until being transported to a Red Cross center. Next, a barcode on the label is scanned and the blood is spun in centrifuges to separate components for transfusion (red cells, platelets, and plasma).

Test tubes containing the donated blood are then delivered to one of three Red Cross National Testing Laboratories where tests are run to determine the blood type and check for infectious diseases, such as HIV, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis. If the donation tests positive for any diseases, the unit is discarded and the donor is notified.

Once testing is completed, the red cells are stored in refrigerators for up to 42 days; platelets are stored at room temperature for up to five days; and plasma are frozen and stored in freezers for up to one year. The blood is then available to be shipped to hospitals 24/7.

What does it take to be a donor?

Blood donors for the Red Cross must be at least 17 years of age (16 with parental consent in some states), must weigh at least 110 pounds and be in generally good health, regardless of age. Although an estimated 38% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood each year, less than 10% actually do.

Every blood donor is given a mini-physical, checking the donor’s temperature, blood pressure, pulse and hemoglobin to ensure it is safe for the donor to give blood. Giving blood is quick. The actual donation process typically takes less than 10-12 minutes. The entire process takes about one hour and 15 minutes.

Below are some facts about blood donation (source: The American Red Cross):

2 SecondsEvery two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.

  • The average red blood cell transfusion is approximately three pints.
  • The approximate number of blood donations collected in the U.S. is 15.7 million each year.
  • The blood type most often requested by hospitals is Type O. Type O-negative blood (red cells) can be transfused to patients of all blood types.
  • A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints (12 gallons) of blood.
  • Only 7% of people in the U.S. have O-negative blood type.
  • Type AB-positive plasma can be transfused to patients of all other blood types.
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