With 2019 now in the rear-view mirror and our eyes firmly fixed on the year ahead, please allow a moment for the annual reminder that January is designated as National Blood Donor Month. This observance has been an institution for more than a half-century. In 1970, President Richard Nixon established the recognition with a proclamation that rings true today:
“With the advent of the new year, it is appropriate and timely to pay high tribute to our nation’s voluntary blood donors for their generosity and to encourage more people – both women and men, and both the younger and the older – to join their worthy ranks by providing a steady and increasing supply of blood during each month of the year ahead.”
January is a fitting month for the observance. It’s the time when many of us ponder ways we might be kinder to ourselves and each other. Further, the hectic schedule of the holiday season and unpredictable weather result in a natural ebb in supply of donated blood – but illness and accidents don’t take a vacation.
The Red Cross said it alone needs to collect more than 13,000 donations daily to meet the blood needs of the 2,600 hospitals it serves – and that’s only about 40% of the country’s blood components. Nationwide, medical facilities need roughly 36,000 units of red blood cells, 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma. A car crash victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.
Every 8 weeks, healthy donors meeting refined criteria may donate one pint of blood. That’s six times a year for people who can keep the schedule, and there are more than enough local opportunities to donate regularly. Many standing donor sites have volunteers who do as good a job of keeping people committed to appointments as medical offices or beauty parlors, and Shaw Media gives notification of upcoming drives in its newspapers.
A pint of blood can be broken down into red blood cells, platelets and plasma. Red blood cells are primarily used for trauma patients, surgeries and burn victims. Platelets often are used for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy to help the blood clot and plasma is a liquid protein that controls bleeding attributed to a low level of clotting factors.
According to the American Association of Blood Banks, after each unit is separated into the components, red blood cells may be refrigerated for a maximum of 42 days or frozen for up to 10 years. Platelets must be used within 5 days. Plasma is kept frozen for up to a year.
All blood types are needed to help maintain a sufficient supply for patients in need. Donors with type O negative blood and other Rh negative blood types are especially needed. Type O negative blood, the universal blood type, always is in demand because it can be transfused to all patients, especially in emergency situations. Donor blood is tested and typed for hepatitis B and C, HIV, West Nile, human T-lymphotropic viruses and syphilis, even on repeat donors.
Various estimates suggest no more than 10% of Americans donate blood, although about 37% are eligible. We feel no less safe suggesting folks who aren’t regular donors or haven’t given in a while at least make the effort to try once this month, then maybe make a routine commitment.
A blood donor card or driver’s license, or two other forms of identification, are required at check-in. Donors who are age 17 (16 with parental permission), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors age 18 and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.
Much of the required pre-donation reading and screening can be done online in advance of reporting, which streamlines the process so it takes even less time from your busy schedule. So what are you waiting for? Go make a difference. It would make an excellent and easy-to-follow New Year’s resolution.