Donate Blood Today — The Gift of Life

Today is the first day of summer, and that reminded me of something I once wrote about back in my political-blogging days:  donating blood.

I’d toyed with the idea of giving blood for years, after reading a column on the process by author and screenplay writer David Gerrold (“The Trouble with Tribbles” from classic Star Trek, as well as variations on the theme, and other television shows, movies and books).  But I never followed through until after I got married.  Remember I’m married in RL to a doctor?  Kitt got me going in about 1991, and for years I was a pretty regular donor, getting up to about a gallon and a half total donation before we moved away from Central Florida and its excellent network of blood banks.  After that, it became more sporadic, and then shut down altogether when a pint I’d given was flagged falsely by accident for a positive in the screening process.

However, my son (with our permission, as he’s a minor) has taken up the flag.  In fact, he’s on his fourth pint today, if I recall the count correctly, and is rather insistent about the long drive to a donation center whenever 56 days have gone by or the American Red Cross gives us a call.  And I can’t be prouder of him.  He’ll probably have a long career of donation ahead of him; many donors stay donors once started.  That should mean several gallons of badly needed blood in the supply over the years.  And blood is always needed, but especially during the summer months.

Summer is usually a critical time for the national blood supply; much more pressure is put on it as people travel more, especially in cars, and get in wrecks or other accidents.  By Red Cross figures, a single car-accident victim can use up to 100 pints of blood, depending on the severity.  But blood is needed for more than just accident victims.  Surgeries, of course, use any number of pints of blood; other uses include transfusions for sufferers of sickle-cell and other types of anemia, leukocyte or platelet extraction (pheresis), hemophilia transfusions and clotting-agent infusion derived from blood plasma — the list goes on.  Overall, the short answer is that someone needs blood every two seconds in the United States.  That’s every two seconds, around the clock, no stopping for holidays.

And blood comes from only one place — donors.  Despite all the science fiction written, including my own stories, and all the research done, nobody has developed a replacement for real human blood.  Approximately 40% of the American population are eligible to donate.  Less than 10% actually gives.  As you can see, the need is constant and critical at all times, especially in the rarer or more useful blood types.  Some regions of the country are under more pressure than others, due to a heavier lack of donors or local conditions, such as natural disasters.  Regular and one-time donors often step up during such crises, such as following the Pulse nightclub shootings last year in Orlando; but the need is constant, and can by filled only one way — by you.

It’s actually a relatively easy process, even today, to give blood.  The questionnaire and screening process is more stringent, due to the need to filter out potential risk sources — would you want to get a pint contaminated with hepatitis, HIV, Zika virus or the latest street drug?  But once you’re on the table, actually bleeding into a plastic bag, it becomes a fairly routine thing.  I know; remember that gallon plus above.  And you’ll not only be helping your community — you could also help yourself.  Each pint taken at a reputable blood service, such as the American Red Cross or LifeSouth or OneBlood, is screened in the lab before being added to the general supply.  Recall the false positive I mentioned on my last donation; these do happen, but most pints donated are clear.  If they do find something, they notify you — and it’s confidential, since it’s concerning your health record.  The pint will be destroyed, but that’s usually the worst of it, and it can help you get treatment for something you weren’t aware you had if follow-up tests confirm the initial screening.  Don’t worry about catching something when you donate at reputable places; the needles are one-time-use, discarded following your donation.

How do you find a location to donate blood?  Ridiculously simple, schatzi, especially in this day and age.  Need I say, “check online”?  More seriously, though, if there isn’t a bloodmobile in your area at some point, collecting for a blood drive, look for your local Red Cross chapter, or the offices of a reputable blood donation organization such as the two I’ve already mentioned.  Eschew “pay-for-blood” places; far too dangerous for both you and the blood supply.  As for the process itself, learn more here.

If you can, please donate today.

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