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Give Blood to Help Save Lives

January 27, 2010

January is National Blood Donor Month

Every two seconds, someone needs blood, according to the Red Cross. Each year, nearly 5 million people in this country require life-saving blood transfusions and the only way to get this precious resource is from volunteer blood donors, according to the National Institutes of Health. Giving blood is easy and it can literally make the difference between life and death. January has been designated National Blood Donor Month to raise awareness about the importance of giving blood.

"There is always a need for blood," said Dr. David Orenberg, director of Washington Hospital’s Emergency Department. "Hospitals have to have as much blood on hand as possible because we don’t always know when we’ll need it. People come into our emergency room in need of blood to stay alive, so we must have it available."

A blood transfusion is done to replace blood lost in an accident or serious injury and during surgery. It may also be needed when the body can’t make blood properly due to an illness.

Blood pumps through the veins carrying oxygen and other important nutrients to the body’s organs and tissues. Every body needs about 10 pints of blood flowing through it. When the body loses too much blood, it must be replaced.

There are different types of blood. Every person has one of the following types: A, B, AB, or O. Blood is also either Rh-positive or Rh-negative. So if you have type A blood, it’s either type A-positive or type A-negative.

Blood used in a transfusion must be compatible with the blood type of the person receiving it. According to the Red Cross, people with type O-negative blood are universal donors because their blood can be given to people of all blood types, but only about seven percent of people in the U.S. are type O-negative.

Roll Up Your Sleeve

While giving blood is an easy way to help others and even save lives, fewer than five percent of Americans donate their blood each year, according to the Red Cross. National Blood Donor Month organizers hope more people will roll up their sleeves if they know how important it is to give.

Less than 40 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood due to age and certain health conditions that prevent them from being able to give, according to the Red Cross. Before donating blood, you will be asked to go through a simple, confidential health screening to make sure you can give. Once you have been cleared to donate, a needle is inserted into your arm and about a pint of blood is drawn.

"The entire process takes about an hour," Orenberg said. "It’s very safe. Your body will produce more blood and the red blood cells will be replaced within a few weeks."

Donating blood doesn’t take any special preparation, although the Red Cross encourages donors to drink plenty of liquids and eat iron-rich foods in the week leading up to the day you give. Donors are provided with snacks afterward and are encouraged to drink plenty of water and avoid heavy lifting or exercise the rest of the day.

Every donation has the potential to save three lives because the blood is broken down into red cells, platelets, plasma and cryoprecipitate, according to the Red Cross. Typically, two or three of these are produced and transfused from a pint of donated blood.

"Giving blood is something so many people can do to contribute," Orenberg said. "It gives you a great feeling knowing you are helping to save lives simply by giving blood."

For more information about giving blood or organizing a blood drive, visit www.redcross.org.