The Vital Importance of Blood Donation

We’ve all seen them—big vans with smiling nurses outside, and people waiting in line to do a good deed: donate blood to those who desperately need it. Maybe you regularly donate blood. Or, maybe you normally walk past the vans, thinking how nice it is that people take part, but don’t sign up to donate yourself. Whether it’s for the first or the fiftieth time, this month is the perfect opportunity to turn that good thought into real action, and become a blood donor. March is Red Cross Month! According to the Blood Center of Wisconsin, only about 5% of the eligible American population donates, so this month is a great chance for everyone to do their part and raise that figure.

Blood donation is a vital need. The Red Cross says that every two seconds, someone needs a blood transfusion. It could be someone who was in a car accident, is receiving an organ transplant, has complications during labor, is undergoing heart surgery, has severe anemia, or is suffering from any of another multitude of conditions. Healthy people generally have about ten pints of blood in their bodies, and donating a single pint can save three lives—but there’s no need to worry about the lost blood, because healthy bone marrow naturally and quickly replaces what you donate. The fact that one pint goes so far is in part because blood has four distinct components, any of which may be needed in a transfusion. These are red cells, platelets, plasma, and cryoprecipitate. Plasma and cryoprecipitate can be frozen and stored for up to a year, so your donation could have long-reaching effects.

The Blood Donation Process

Blood can’t be manufactured; it can only be donated. Of course, not everyone can donate to everyone—blood type determines who receives which donations. There are four main blood types: A, B, AB, and O. Types A and B can donate and receive within their respective type, as well donate to type AB. AB can receive from anyone, but only donate to other AB types. Type O can only receive from other Type O’s, but, crucially, they can donate to anyone (thus this type is nicknamed the “universal donor”). Whenever a patient’s blood type is unknown, such as in an emergency or for newborns, type-O blood is needed. That’s why it’s especially important for type-O people to donate, and luckily, O is also the most common blood type.

The donation process is very safe, and surprisingly simple. You can sign up through the Red Cross, or through various other organizations. When you get to the blood drive, you’ll have to undergo a quick physical, and answer some health-related questions to determine eligibility. You must be at least 17 years old, in good health, and weigh at least 110 pounds (other criteria will also be evaluated on the day of donation). If you are eligible, a nurse will then insert a sterile needle into your arm, and draw a pint of blood, which should take about ten minutes. Afterwards, he or she will bandage your arm, you’ll eat a sweet treat to replenish your energy, and you can go on with your day. Whatever your blood type is, your donation is sure to save lives, so find a blood drive near you, and make Red Cross Month your moment to take action.

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