Throughout the country, someone is needing a blood transfusion every two seconds, said Red Cross spokesperson Natividad Lewis.
That means Red Cross must collect about 14,000 blood donations for about 2,600 hospitals every day. In the Pacific Northwest region, which includes Washington and Oregon, “we need to collect approximately 700 blood donations daily to meet the needs of patients in hospitals,” Lewis said.
“It’s not just traumatic experiences, it’s not accidents, it’s (also) people who need it for treatment,” Lewis said. “Sickle cell, cancer patients, anemia … There’s a range of patients that are in need of blood. It’s not just a one time thing for everyone.”
Donating blood is “an easy way to make an impact,” Lewis said. It only takes an hour of a donor’s day to donate whole blood, including the health screening, or two hours to donate platelets.
Platelet donations are used to help treat cancer patients, burn victims and other critical patients who need that clotting component in the blood.
“Blood donations are important because they go toward helping save lives,” Lewis said. “Whether it’s that someone gets it as a transfusion or whether research is done on the blood, it’s a lifesaving or life enhancing measure. With someone needing blood every two seconds in the U.S. for trauma situations or for treatment, it’s really important that people are donating regularly.”
Whole blood donations can be given once every 56 days; platelet donations can be given once every 7 days, or up to 24 times in a year. Lewis said that in between whole blood donations, people can donate platelets.
“A lot of people who donate platelets donate it very regularly,” Lewis said. “Their donations are definitely going to a group of patients who are in critical need of those platelets.”
Lewis said sometimes donors can experience lightheadedness afterwards, but that the Red Cross staff are all trained in how to help out in that situation, including providing food and drink to help counteract the side effect. Also, she said donors can take steps to help prevent lightheadedness, including ensuring you’re hydrated, eating before donating and eating iron-rich foods the night before a donation appointment.
“We always just want the donor to have the best experience,” Lewis said.
There are some limits to blood donations besides just how often they can be made.
“When you come in to do your donation, you’ll go through a health screening,” Lewis said. “We want to make sure you as a donor are feeling healthy.
There are other eligibility requirements developed by the Food and Drug Administration, as well, which Lewis said are all outlined on the Red Cross website, redcrossblood.org.
May is Trauma Awareness Month for Red Cross, which means that throughout the month they’ve been putting an emphasis on trauma needs.
“When people are thinking about blood donations, they may think more about patients in general,” Lewis said. “Obviously, patients are in need every day throughout the year. Then there are those unforeseen incidents, the unforeseen accidents you’re rushed to the hospital for that we highlight during May.”
In situations like that, Lewis said doctors don’t always know, and can’t always take the time to figure out, what blood type a patient is, which means they reach for the universal blood type, O-negative. Lewis said that there “is always a need” for all types of blood donations, but that 7 percent of the population has O-negative blood.
“If you know that you are O-negative, we do highly encourage you to donate. it’s the universal blood type, which means it can be transfused to any patient,” Lewis said. “When seconds are valuable, having a regular supply is critical.”
Red Cross also has a blood donor app, available on the Google Play Store and the iPhone App Store, which Lewis said is “like a virtual blood donor card.” It can help keep track of when you last donated, where the closest areas are to donate and when, what your blood type is and even tell you where your blood is going.
The app can also schedule a donation appointment. Appointments can also be made at redcrossblood.org or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
“The biggest thing for me is seeing the bigger picture, that you are making an impact on people with a selfless act,” Lewis said. “They don’t know who you are, you don’t know who they are, yet you have a bond of some sort, because you have helped save their life, extend their life or helped alleviate pain.”
For more information on blood donations, visit redcrossblood.org.
Michelle Beahm is a reporter with the Kitsap News Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.