January is National Blood Donor Month. It is a time to commend the lifesaving impact of blood and platelet donors. Blood donation is a voluntary process and perceived equivalent to volunteer work. You are providing your time (and blood) to help people in need. 53 years ago, a proclamation was signed by the president indicating January as National Blood donor month. This observance was intended to recognize the blood donors and to encourage additional people to become donors.
The month of January is typically a period of critical blood shortages. People stop donating blood during the winter months for various reasons – the holidays, they get sick during cold and flu season or blood drives get cancelled due to weather conditions during the winter months. On top of these normal issues, we are currently dealing with a pandemic that is also hindering blood donation.
According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds, someone within the U.S. requires blood or platelets. Those needs do not diminish because of the season, a disaster, or because we are in a pandemic. Currently, the U.S. is experiencing a severe blood shortage. The blood supply has plunged to the lowest it has been in six years. Approximately 29,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the U.S. Nearly 5,000 units of platelets and 6.500 units of plasma are needed daily, according to the redcross.org. In the recent months, there has been less than half a day supply available of type O blood. This is far from the ideal five-day supply. Type O is the most sought-after blood group by hospitals. Due to type O negative being the universal blood type, it can be given in emergency situations. This type of scenario would be when there is no time to find out the patient’s blood type and immediate action is required.
Additionally, there is a critical need for platelets. Platelets are the clotting portion of blood. According to the American Red Cross, nearly half of all platelet donations are given to patients undergoing cancer treatments. Cancer is an illness all too acquainted with millions of Americans and their families. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1.9 million people were expected to be diagnosed with cancer during 2021. Different types of cancers and cancer treatments prevent patients from producing their own platelets. Since blood cannot be artificially created and there’s no substitute, these patients rely upon blood donors for their very lives.
Blood donations are used for those battling cancer, accident and burn victims, surgical and organ transplant patients, etc. One blood donation can potentially save up to three lives per the Mayo Clinic. Blood is perishable and unfortunately, cannot be stockpiled. As a result, red blood cells must be used within 42 days and platelets need to be used within five days. The redcross.org states the average red blood cell transfusion is approximately three units; however, a single car accident victim can require as many as 100 units of blood. These numbers are staggering. The statistics simply show the vital need for immediate action from volunteers. Those who are eligible to donate are asked to do so now to help overcome and potentially defeat this deficiency. If all eligible individuals donated two or more times a year, blood shortages would be eliminated.
Blood donation is safe. If you are a healthy adult, you can donate a pint of blood without endangering your health. To be eligible to donate, you need to be in good health, 17 years old (required age for Ohio and West Virginia), weigh a minimum 110lbs, and able to pass the physical and health-history assessments. Before your donation, make sure to get a good night sleep, eat a healthy meal before hand – avoid fatty foods, drink plenty of water, check to see if any medications you have recently taken could interfere with the donation (platelet donors cannot take aspirin for two days prior to donating) and wear comfortable clothing that gives access to your arm. For more information on frequently asked questions and what to expect before, during, and after donation, please visit RedCrossBlood.org.
In closing, try to focus on the good you will be doing and the lives you will be saving by donating blood. According to the World Health Organization, “blood is the most precious gift that anyone can give to another person – the gift of life. A decision to donate your blood can save a life.”
Jennifer Richmond is the Meigs County Health Department Human Resources Coordinator.