Currently, the nation's blood banks are experiencing a shortage in supply and have issued an urgent appeal for donations. What does it mean to donate blood?
First of all, there are four types of blood donation, all of which are considered invaluable by the medical community. The first and most common type of donation is red blood cell donation. Red blood cell donations are used for transfusions for accident victims, surgery patients and people who suffer from chronic anemia. O-negative and O-positive blood type donors are the most highly sought after because they help the greatest number of people. People with O blood types are considered universal donors because their blood can work in anybody.
The procedure for giving red blood cells lasts approximately 10 minutes and is considered relatively painless. A nurse or technician draws a pint of blood from the arm with a needle. Common side effects from giving blood include light headedness, nausea and fatigue.
Doctors and nurses advise red blood cell donors and other types of donors to relax for the rest of the day after donating. Givers are limited to donating only once every 56 days because a low red blood cell count may result in anemia.
Another type of giving is plasma donation. An essential part of one's body, plasma constitutes 55 percent of the blood. Plasma is needed in the bloodstream for transporting cells and for clotting. For this reason, plasma is especially important for hemophiliac emergencies. Like red blood cells, though, plasma is also crucial in times of accidents and severe blood loss. The universal type for plasma is AB-positive, so these donors are often asked to donate plasma rather than red blood cells.
Donating plasma takes three times as long as donating red blood cells. Donors are allowed to give plasma once a month because ones body creates plasma much more quickly than red blood cells. Some people may find centers that pay for plasma donations, although plasma donors are usually volunteers.
The third kind of donation, platelet donation, is used for purposes similar to plasma donation. Platelets are essential for the prevention of blood clotting. Normally platelets are produced by bone marrow. When a person lacks marrow or his or her marrow is unable to produce platelets (like in leukemia or aplastic anemia), a platelet transfusion is used to make clotting possible. Like plasma donation, platelet donation requires the use of an apheresis machine. The process, however, lasts nearly two hours.
The last and least common method of donation is marrow donation. In this painful and lengthy process, donors receive anesthesia and marrow is removed from the hip area. Unfortunately, finding marrow donor matches is sometimes an arduous task and has a lower success rate than other donation methods.
To be eligible to donate blood, one must complete a questionnaire consisting of over 40 questions. Then, the potential donor must interview with a technician to determine if he or she can donate blood safely. Weight restrictions, recent illnesses and tattoos are the most typical reasons for ineligibility.
Once a donor has given blood, the blood is tested for several conditions including HIV and Hepatitis B and C. These tests ensure that the donated blood is safe for recipients and that donors are informed of any viruses they may have. Once tested, the results will be sent confidentially by mail.
Blood donation is a quick way to help others in need. According to the Blue Cross, on most days in the United States 32,000 pints of blood are used for medical purposes. Because blood has a shelf life of about 30 days, chances are good that the blood one donates will be used shortly after it is given.
St. Olafs very own Blue Key Honor Society sponsors two blood drives each year, one in the fall and one in the spring. "We've always really happy with the turnout of the people who are willing to donate blood at St. Olaf," Amy Legreid '03 said. "I think it's a great cause because it's always important to help others in need."
Although the thought of a needle being held in ones arm may not be the most appealing idea, it is important to think about how the 10 minutes of discomfort could end up saving another persons life. The majority of Americans will either know someone who needs a transfusion in a time of emergency or may need one themselves.
While citizens across the country reflect upon what they can do to contribute to society, blood donation remains an invaluable way to benefit others lives. Donating blood is more than braving pain and giving time it is giving the gift of life.
Information gathered from www.bluecross.com