Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. But it’s not only the winter months — with multiple storms and illnesses such as the flu epidemic — that do a number on available blood supplies. The warmest months of the year bring out more drivers, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and that means more accidents.
For comparison, one whole-blood donation is a pint, one of 10-12 in the human body. A victim of a car accident, however, might require 100 times that amount. Add in how much blood and blood products are needed for other surgery — or an illness that causes anemia, such as leukemia or kidney disease —and you can appreciate the need. Hospitals need roughly one pint of blood from 32,000 donors per day.
Because blood is perishable, however, blood centers and hospitals cannot stock up for “later.”
“Even temporary disruptions to blood and platelet donations can diminish the availability for hospital patients,” said Clifford Numark, senior vice president, Red Cross Blood Services, in a recent note to the media. “It’s the blood on the shelves that helps save lives in an emergency, and that’s why we’re asking eligible individuals to make an appointment to give blood or platelets today.”
On Thursday morning, July 26, 2018, the Red Cross said in a separate note that it “continues to face an emergency blood shortage. Eligible donors of all blood types are urged to give now.”
— American Red Cross (@RedCross) July 25, 2018
A quick online search will help anyone pinpoint the closest blood drive or center, with donation hours and sometimes walk-in donations. The process itself is quick — and could even make those who donate healthier. Once you complete a brief questionnaire, you get a mini-physical with temperature, blood pressure, iron level, and other checks, and you’re told right away if any levels are out of normal ranges.
“It’s the blood on the shelves that helps save lives in an emergency … We’re asking eligible individuals to make an appointment to give blood or platelets today.”
Once cleared, you begin your selected donation option: whole blood, platelets (the blood’s clotting agent) or one of two forms of red-cell donation. Each type of donation differs in the process and duration — and in how often you can donate.
(I can do a whole blood donation, of which I’ve done more than 100, every 56 days, and it takes about 10 minutes for the actual draw.)
The most enjoyable part of the visit, other than the rush of sheer gratification, is sitting in the snack room afterward with your choice of juice, coffee, cookies, and other treats.
For the remainder of the day that you donate, take it easy. Do no heavy lifting, especially with the arm you used for the donation, and go slowly up any stairs. Drink extra fluids, avoid smoking, and drink no alcoholic beverages until after you’ve had a meal with water or another nonalcoholic drink.
For routine donors like myself, at the end comes a blessing. The New York Blood Center, for which I donate some six times a year, sends an email afterward to tell me which area hospital received the blood I donated.
Since whole blood is broken up into various components, this follow-up might be only part of the story.
Still, it’s enough to tell me I’m part of a great effort — which helps many people, across the nation, to see another day.
This article has been updated.