In 1969, hospitals across America had a dire need for donated blood and were challenged about how to spread the word. In an effort to help, President Richard Nixon declared January to be National Blood Donor Month. The goal of the campaign was to spread awareness and encourage both first-time and regular donors to make time to donate blood.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of National Blood Donor Month, and the nation’s need for blood is still just as urgent as it was in 1969. The American Red Cross reports that in the United States, every 2 seconds someone is in need of donated blood, whether for surgery, chronic illness, cancer treatment or traumatic injuries. Even more remarkable? One donation can save up to three lives!
“Only 38 percent of the American population meets the qualifications for donating blood,” says Samantha Pollard, External Communications Manager for the American Red Cross. “And of that 38 percent, only 3 percent end up donating blood. We’d love to see that number go up!”
If you’re on the fence about donating blood, here are some things you should know as you consider your decision.
Eligibility Requirements for Blood Donation
Even with all the technological advancements in today’s world, blood cannot be manufactured—it has to come from a human donor. But not all blood was created equal. There are certain requirements that have to be met in order to be a blood donor:
- You must be at least 17 years of age.
- You must weigh at least 110 pounds.
- You must not have bloodborne diseases, such as HIV or hepatitis.
- Restrictions apply due to certain medications or recent travels.
In addition, those who want to give blood multiple times a year must wait 56 days between donations in order for their body to completely replenish their blood supply.
“Blood only has a shelf life of 42 days, and if you’re donating your platelets, the shelf life is only five days,” says Pollard. “We need a constant supply of new blood for emergencies, and January is a great time to donate. We tend to see a decline in donations during winter months, so this is when we need it most.”
Health Benefits to Donating Blood
Blood donors receive more than just the satisfaction of doing something to help someone else—there are health benefits that are built into the process.
“When you come in to donate blood, you essentially get a free mini-physical,” Pollard says. “We’ve had donors discover that they are diabetic or have leukemia by having their blood tested before their donation. It’s pretty remarkable.”
Before donating blood, you will have your blood pressure, body temperature and iron levels checked for any irregularities. Although this health screening doesn’t replace an annual physical exam, it can be an indicator of other health issues that can be brought to the attention of a doctor before symptoms or complications arise.
Donating blood also lowers your risk of heart disease and cancer by removing excess levels of iron from the body.
Blood Donation Is Highly Regulated
Whether you choose to donate blood through your local American Red Cross, at an organized blood drive, or at a community blood bank, you can rest assured that the process will be clean and safe every time. Regardless of where you donate, the process is the same—you must undergo a health screening beforehand, have access to informational pamphlets about blood donation, and always be encouraged to rest afterwards.
“Blood donation doesn’t have to happen in a medical setting, but it should absolutely be well-organized and clean,” says Pollard. “Staff will always clean the area on your arm where they will stick you with the needle; wear gloves; use fresh, clean needles; and be able to talk you through the entire experience in a way that makes you feel comfortable.”
And since blood donations typically take one pint of blood, Pollard notes that you should always rest for 10-15 minutes afterwards to make sure you don’t walk away feeling dizzy or light-headed.
Donating Blood Saves Lives
“The No. 1 reason why people donate is because someone has personally asked them to,” says Pollard. “We have found that about 50 percent of the American public has known someone affected by blood donations or needed a blood transfusion.”
If nothing else, consider donating blood this year to help save a life. Eventually, it may even end up saving your own. You can learn more about blood donation, including the nearest blood bank in your neighborhood, through the American Red Cross: https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive.