With our eyes firmly fixed on 2019, please allow us a moment to remind you that January is National Blood Donor Month.
This is the 50th consecutive year for the observance, which was first established in 1970 when President Richard Nixon issued a proclamation that rings true today:
“With the advent of the New Year, it is appropriate and timely to pay high tribute to our nation’s voluntary blood donors for their generosity and to encourage more people – both women and men, and both the younger and the older – to join their worthy ranks by providing a steady and increasing supply of blood during each month of the year ahead.”
January is a fitting month for the observance. It’s the time when many of us consider ways we might live differently in the new year, often considering how we might be kinder to ourselves and each other. Further, the hectic schedule of the December holiday season and unpredictable weather result in a natural ebb in supply of donated blood, although illness and accidents take no vacation.
The Red Cross said it alone needs to collect more than 13,000 donations daily to meet the blood needs of the 2,600 hospitals it serves, and even that staggering quantity doesn’t represent the full need across the country. Every eight weeks, healthy donors meeting refined criteria may present one pint for donations. That’s six times a year for people who can keep the schedule, and there are more than enough local opportunities for anyone who wants to donate regularly. Many standing donor sites have volunteers who do as good a job of keeping people committed to appointments at medical offices or beauty parlors, and this newspaper lists upcoming drives in the health calendar each Tuesday.
A pint of blood can be broken down into red blood cells, platelets and plasma. Red blood cells are primarily used for trauma patients, surgeries and burn victims. Platelets often are used for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy to help the blood clot, and plasma is a liquid protein that controls bleeding because of a low level of clotting factors.
According to the American Association of Blood Banks, after each unit is separated into the components, red blood cells may be refrigerated for a maximum of 42 days or frozen for up to 10 years. Platelets are kept at room temperature for a maximum of seven days. Plasma is kept in a fresh frozen state for up to one year.
All blood types are needed to help maintain a sufficient supply for patients in need. Donors with type O negative blood and other Rh negative blood types are especially encouraged to give. Type O negative blood, the universal blood type, always is in high demand because it can be transfused to patients with any blood type, especially in emergency situations. Donor blood is tested and typed for hepatitis B and C, human immunodeficiency virus, West Nile, human T-lymphotropic viruses and syphilis, even on repeat donors.
Various estimates suggest no more than 10 percent of Americans donate blood although about 37 percent is eligible. We don’t have a feel for the numbers locally, but we feel no less safe suggesting folks who aren’t regular donors or haven’t given in a while at least make the effort to try once this month, then maybe make a routine commitment.
A blood donor card or driver’s license, or two other forms of identification, are required at check-in. Donors who are age 17 (16 with parental permission), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors age 18 and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.
Much of the required pre-donation reading and screening can be done online in advance of reporting, which streamlines the process so it takes even less time from your busy schedule. So what are you waiting for? Go make a difference. It would make an excellent and easy-to-follow New Year’s resolution.