Every three seconds, someone needs blood. Each day, across the nation, 32,000 units of red cells save lives. No one understands the importance of “giving the gift of life” more than nurses. You see it in your work every day: platelets given to chemotherapy patients, plasma for burn victims, red cells for transplant patients. The list goes on and on.
With today’s aging population, plus advances in medical treatments and procedures that require blood transfusions, the demand for blood continues to rise. Blood centers throughout the country rely on the generosity of volunteer blood donors to meet the blood product needs of their communities. In a large metropolitan area like Chicago, LifeSource, Chicagoland’s Blood Center, needs 1,500 people to present to donate daily. As the largest blood center in Illinois, LifeSource distributes more than 585,000 units of blood and blood products annually to 160 area hospitals and home health care agencies in order to meet the growing need for patient transfusion therapy.
Ninety percent of the U.S. population will need donated blood by the time they reach the age of 72. Yet fewer than five percent of eligible donors regularly give the gift of life. The percentage of racial and ethnic minority donors is even lower. For example, in Chicago only one percent of African Americans and Hispanics donate blood.
Why are minority blood donors so important? Although blood compatibility is not based on race, rare blood types often are. Numerous blood subtypes exist within certain populations. Because there are some rare blood antigens that are unique to blacks, in many cases a black donor’s blood is a better match for a black patient.
Patients with sickle cell anemia, the most common inherited blood disease among African Americans, can require up to four pints of blood weekly. Furthermore, blood banks and hospitals routinely face shortages of O and B blood types. African Americans have more O and B blood than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.
The Summertime Blood Shortage Blues
The need for blood never takes a vacation, but blood donors do. As we enter the summer months, families are going on vacations, the weather is nice and people fail to donate. The summer season also sees a great reduction in the number of high school and college blood drives, which account for approximately 15 percent of the donor base.
While the blood supply typically falls dangerously low around the holidays and during the summer, our motto at LifeSource is: “Every day is a good day to donate blood.” Three gallons of blood are used every minute in the United States. You never know when one of your patients–or yourself, a family member, coworker or friend–will need blood. Emergencies can happen anytime–car accidents, medical crises, even tiger attacks.
Of course, the odds are slim that you would find yourself providing care to a patient who was mauled by a tiger. But it does happen. Look at Roy Horn of Siegfried and Roy. One day Horn was celebrating his 59th birthday; the next day, he was receiving life-saving blood transfusions. If the blood hadn’t been available at the hospital when he needed it, Roy wouldn’t be alive today. Generous blood donors who elected to donate in the weeks prior to the accident saved his life.
Each year, 4.5 million American lives are saved by blood transfusions. Just ask Rebeca Mead of Geneva, Illinois. “I am the mother of two beautiful children who would not be here today if not for the generosity of blood donors,” she explains. “Both of my children received a blood transfusion within hours of their births. They still need blood products, but because of blood donors, my four-year-old Alex and one-year-old Claudia are growing and learning like every other kid.”
Why Don’t People Donate?
Excuses, excuses! At our blood center, we’ve heard them all. A few of the most common reasons people give for not donating blood include:
• I can catch a disease if I donate.
• I don’t have enough blood to give.
• I’m too old.
• You don’t want my blood.
• Someone else will donate.
• I’m too busy.
• It will hurt.
• I’m afraid of needles.
As you can see by these statements, public education remains a constant challenge for blood centers. The most effective way to dispel these fears, myths and misconceptions about blood donation is simply to give people the facts. For example:
• No, you can’t catch a disease by donating blood. A sterile needle and plastic bag system are used to collect the blood and are disposed of immediately after the donation.
• Yes, your body does have enough blood. However, you must weigh at least 110 pounds to donate. The average adult has 10 to 12 pints of blood and each donation is only one pint. Your volume of fluids will adjust within hours of your donation. You can donate safely every 56 days.
• There is no upper age limit to donate. Donors must be at least 17 years of age and some states allow 16-year-olds to donate with parental consent.
• Yes, we do want your blood and no, you can’t count on someone else to donate. It’s everyone’s responsibility to help ensure an adequate blood supply.
• Blood centers respect the fact that people have busy schedules. If you don’t have time to stop in and donate, the center can bring mobile blood drives to you–at your place of work or worship, or any convenient place where people gather. The entire four-step donation process–medical history, mini-physical, donation and refreshments–takes only about an hour and is perfectly safe and comfortable.
• Yes, there is a slight pinch of the needle when you donate. But other than that, the process is not painful. When people tell us they’re afraid of needles, we ask them to remember the patients who bravely face life-threatening illnesses. We also ask, “If you were on the receiving end of a life-saving transfusion, would you still shy away from that needle?”
Blood cannot be manufactured, so it truly is a gift one person gives another. The number one reason why people choose to donate is because it makes them feel good. Blood donors are our heroes. With each donation they can save up to three lives.
How Nurses Can Help
The lack of blood donors is a serious problem in our country. As a nurse, you can help! Believe it or not, the top reason many people give for not donating is that no one asked them. Please encourage your patients and their families to become blood donors. We also hope that you will consider donating blood yourself.
“Nurses administer multiple blood products daily,” say Carol Eritano, RN, and Pam Sessa, RN, who work at Central Blood Bank in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “They play a vital role in educating the public about the importance of blood donation to support this life-saving treatment for their patients.”
America’s Blood Centers, North America’s largest network of non-profit blood centers, offers a toll-free number to help you find a center near you. All you have to do is enter your five-digit zip code. This service is offered in English, Spanish and French. Call 1-888-USBLOOD.
In traumatic situations, people want to contribute, be helpful and do something meaningful. What can they do when a loved one has been in an accident or is having triple bypass surgery? They can give blood. It’s as simple as that.
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