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Bella and Edward Need A Favor…

We decided not to wait until Halloween for this one.  The lovely, somber but lovely, ceremonies held yesterday to honor the victims  of 11 September 2001 – both the living survivors and the dead –  reminded us of the ongoing need for blood donation.  Most of us cannot get to the site of a tornado’s stunning destruction and pitch in, or physically muck out a neighbor’s house after a flood or rebuild after a bombing or fire or an earthquake, but we can give blood.  And for many of the recipients of this generosity, this is the gift for which they are most truly thankful.

Millions need blood transfusions every year, during surgery, after an accident or while undergoing treatment of a life threatening disease.  Donating blood is just that – a voluntary, selfless act.  It is safe.  New, sterile disposable supplies are used for each donor; there’s no risk of bloodborne infection by donating blood.  A healthy adult can usually donate a pint of blood without risking his or her health.  One pint can save up to three lives.  Within 24 hours of the donation, the body replaces its lost fluids, and within two weeks or so, the lost red blood cells are also replaced.

There are different types of blood donation:

  • Whole blood.  The most common type of blood donation.  About a pint of whole blood is given.  This blood is then separated into its components – plasma, red cells and platelets.
  • Platelets.  This donation uses a process called apheresis.   The donor is hooked up to a machine that collects the platelets and some of the plasma; the rest of the blood is returned to the donor.
  • Double red cells.  Double red cell donation also uses the apheresis process to collect only the red cells.
  • Plasma.  Plasma is either collected at the same time as a platelet donation during the apheresis process or it may be collected on its own, without platelets.
Are you eligible?  In order to donate whole blood, plasma or platelets, you need to be:
  • In good health.
  • At least 110 pounds.
  • Able to pass the physical and health history assessments.
  • At least 17 years old.  The minimum age for donation varies by state – some allow 16-year-olds to donate provided they have parental permission.  There is no upper age limit.
  • Note that the requirements are slightly different for double red cell donation.  Your local donor center will have the details and specifics.
What to expect:
Once you have made the decision to donate blood, you will have to complete a confidential medical history.  This form includes very direct questions about behavior and lifestyle choices that are known to carry higher risks of bloodborne infections.  Bloodborne infections are those transmitted through the blood.  Strict confidentiality is maintained, and your complete honesty is very important.  
You will undergo a quick physical examination, checking your blood pressure, pulse and temperature.  A small blood sample will be taken from a finger prick.  This sample is used to check your hemoglobin level (the oxygen-carrying part of your blood).  You can donate if your hemoglobin concentration is normal and you’ve met all the other requirements.
Obviously, because of the very real risk of bloodborne infections, not everyone can donate blood.  Here is a list of some of the high-risk groups not eligible to donate:
  • Anyone who has ever used injection drugs not prescribed by a physician such as illegal injection drugs or steroids not prescribed by a doctor.
  • Men who have had sexual contact with other men since 1977.
  • Anyone who tests positive for HIV (AIDS virus).
  • Anyone who has ever received clotting factor concentrates.
  • Men and women who have engaged in sex for money or drugs since 1977.
  • Anyone who has had hepatitis since his or her 11th birthday.
  • Anyone who has taken etretinate (Tegison) for psoriasis.
  • Anyone who has had babesiosis or Chagas’ disease.
  • Anyone who has risk factors for Creutzfeldt-Jakob (CJD) or who has a blood relative with CJD.
  • Anyone who spent three months or more in the United Kingdom from 1980 through 1996.
  • Anyone who has spent five years in Europe from 1980 to the present.
  • Anyone who received a blood transfusion in France or the United Kingdom from 1980 to the present.
If you are not eligible to donate blood, please consider the many other ways you can help out; with time and talents and tenacity.  
Next up, we will go over getting ready to donate, how the basic procedure works and all the rest.
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