“Emergency need for blood,” the ads proclaim. They have appeared widely on websites and social media this summer, including across Connecticut. The normal five-day supply is reportedly down to a couple of days.
If your health and other circumstances allow, please consider helping to meet this need for volunteer blood donors. Only 3 of 100 Americans currently give blood, indicating a great opportunity to increase the numbers—and the blood supply—accordingly.
I first donated at age 17; once the procedure’s relative ease and convenience were clear, it became a habit. Mainly in Connecticut but also in New York and Massachusetts—and inspired by my parents’ examples—I’ve given blood without incident well over 100 times, totaling some 15 gallons.
An Hour Every Eight Weeks
Once eligible, a person can give whole blood every eight weeks (or platelets every four weeks, though that takes a bit longer). The only interruptions in my case have been for occasional trips to India, regarded as a malarial zone, which after each visit has required a year off before resumption of the every-eight-weeks pattern.
Following my May donation, I received an email explaining: “After first ensuring that local needs were met, your blood donation was sent to a New York regional hospital … to help a patient in need. Your donation is on its way to change lives!”
From Leukemia, Hemophilia, and Sickle-Cell Anemia to Traumatic Injuries
The message continued:
Every day, people receive blood for life-threatening illnesses, blood disorders, traumatic injuries, and other conditions. You can feel proud knowing that your gift of a blood donation is critical to these patients.
Unlike blood plasma, for which donors often receive about $30 and can give up to twice a week, whole blood and components such as “power red” and platelet donations come from volunteers. Ever since the 1970s, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required blood banks to label whole blood donations to identify their sources as paid or not. Blood banks around the country may vary. For example, a Red Cross overview addresses many questions that potential donors may have. You can also learn more about hosting a blood drive, something various schools, businesses, athletic teams, faith-based and campus organizations—though not enough—already do.
The FDA’s blood donation recommendations are here. While the confidential, self-reported health histories of prospective blood donors are still vetted carefully (along with the blood itself), there is no longer a ban on donations from gay or bisexual men, which had been the policy for three decades until its discriminatory implications led to at least a partial change. As a 2014 New York Times article reported, now 12-month waiting periods apply for men who have had sex with other men, as well as for travel to malarial zones (and also for a few other categories perceived to bring increased risk).
For tens of millions of Americans ages 17 and up, giving blood regularly should be a viable option. Far more than 3 percent would be eligible. For anyone who might be open to becoming a blood donor, I encourage you to pursue it. Once you do, you might find that it develops into a habit—a diversion of an hour or so once every eight weeks.
Join the Club of Blood Donors
Tina Rosenberg’s book Join the Club discusses the science of social and behavioral change—what works in building movements. Her subtitle is How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World. Too often, peer pressure is used for destructive purposes. But for attracting blood donors (or other volunteers toward good causes), peer pressure has its merits. Giving blood is relatively painless; the sting lasts only a second or two and, in my experience, is far exceeded by the satisfaction of doing something beneficial.
If you join this cause, you’ll be part of a community of donors who—whatever the ups and downs of their days, weeks, work, families—are contributing to the collective health and well-being of us all. Gender, ethnicity, social class, age (in general) and job status aren’t relevant. Everyone has red blood. Many of us can give, and some of us will—eventually—need it in the form of transfusions or other treatments involving blood components.
So, if you can, please do consider joining the “club” of blood donors. It can’t hurt—not much, anyway. It could make a life-saving difference.
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