As you plan small acts of kindness or ways to volunteer, don’t forget the impact of blood donation. Why donate blood? Joni Baker, clinical laboratory manager, UnityPoint Health, explains how something so simple can make such a positive difference in our world.
1. Less Than 10% of Eligible Donors Do
Blood donation is a safe process, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the American Association of Blood Banks to make sure the donor, blood supply and recipient stay protected.
Rarest Blood Type
In the United States, Baker says group AB is the rarest blood type, followed by group B. Group A and O are the most common blood types. Baker breaks down which blood types can give to one another:
- Group O red cells can be given to anyone (universal red cell donor is group O). O donors are sought after because their cells can be transfused to the most recipients.
- Group AB red cells can only be given to someone who is group AB. Group AB can also receive transfusion of red cells of any type: AB, A, B or O.
- Group O can only receive transfusion of O red cells.
The first time you donate blood, a screening process is completed, including measuring your hemoglobin. On future donations, an abbreviated screening process may be used. Baker outlines the blood donation rules you need to know:
Blood Donation Rules
- You must be 18 years old or have parental permission if you’re 16 or 17.
- You must weigh 120 pounds or more.
- You need a valid driver’s license or a passport for identification.
- You must be free of any major organ disease, including heart disease, lung disease and bleeding tendencies.
- You must not be taking antibiotics or other supplements that could influence the donation.
- You must wait 12 months if you had a tattoo applied in a state that does not regulate tattoo facilities. That includes District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wyoming.
- Recent surgery or travel may mean deferral.
Baker says the most common reason someone is unable to donate is because of low hemoglobin. Acceptable hemoglobin is 13.0 grams/deciliter for males and 12.5 grams/deciliter for females.
“You need iron to make new red cells to maintain your hemoglobin. Eating foods high in iron, such as fortified cereals and grains, spinach, green lentils, beans, nuts and many other foods can help,” Baker says.
For any questions you may have on blood donation rules, Baker encourages checking your local blood center’s website or giving them a call.
2. It Saves Lives
Donations are essential for trauma patients and people undergoing a variety of situations, including surgeries, transplants, chronic illnesses, blood disorders and cancer. Because over 90% of people who are eligible to donate do not, Baker says there’s always a need for donors.
“Life-saving blood components can support recovery from injuries or disease,” Baker says. “A single blood donation can give one to four patients a better outcome, a chance at survival.”
3. It’s Only an Hour of Your Time
The entire donation process takes approximately one hour, with about 10 minutes of that time being the actual blood donation. The whole blood donation volume is usually about 500 milliliters, or one pint.
“Eat a meal or snack before you plan donate, and don’t donate if you aren’t feeling well. After you finish, you’ll get a beverage and snack to replace volume,” Baker says.
4. There’s Little Pain Involved
When the needle is inserted, you may feel uncomfortable but shouldn’t while the blood is being drawn.
If your arm feels sore after donating, consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliver with acetaminophen to alleviate the achiness. There’s a chance you may feel some weakness in the arm where you donated as well, so try to avoid physical activity or heavy lifting for at least five hours.
5. It Doesn’t Have to be a One-Time Gift
Donation can be a single, whole blood donation (red cells, plasma and platelets) or an apheresis donation, where one component of blood, such as red cells or platelets, is shared and the other components are returned to the donor. Whole blood donations can be made every eight weeks, up to six times per year.
Baker says another type of donation is called double red cell donations, which can be made every 112 days, up to three times per year.
“A double red cell donation is an apheresis process where the whole blood is removed, and the red cells separated, while the plasma and platelets are returned to the donor. A double red cell donation results in two red cells that can benefit two recipients,” Baker says.
“The reward is that something you can so easily share can really make a significant difference in someone else’s life.”
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