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World Blood Donor Day, June 14th

When I turned 18 years old, I started donating blood. Somehow, growing up I had the idea that blood donation was something everyone did when they were old enough. However, once I started donating, I quickly learned that “everyone” doesn’t give blood. While it is true some people are medically ineligible to donate, many others don’t donate because they have never thought about it.

On World Blood Donor Day, I challenge you to think about it.

Think about donating blood and, if possible, give.

According to the Red Cross, every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. That great need for blood is something to think about.

The Red Cross also states that one unit of blood can help save up to three people. But sometimes multiple units of blood are needed to help one person. I read an account recently about a girl who was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at birth. She receives red blood cell transfusions every six weeks to help her feel pain-free. I also read about a woman who was critically injured in a car accident. She had multiple injuries that resulted in multiple surgeries. One hundred units of blood were required in a very short period; that is roughly 100 people who contributed to her survival, and they contributed not knowing the specific future need it would serve. Think about helping someone be pain-free during a chronic illness or preventing a family from losing a loved one. It is the blood already waiting at the hospital that treats these personal emergencies; think about that.

Think about the fact that blood and platelets cannot be manufactured; they can only come from donors. There have been so many advances in medical treatment with pacemakers, artificial joints, and artificial limbs but there is no substitute for blood. Blood is only supplied by the generosity of a donor and all blood types are needed all the time.

Did you know that there could be certain details about your individual blood beyond blood type? These details may make you more compatible for helping with certain types of blood transfusions. As an example, newborn babies can only have transfusions with blood that lacks the cytomegalovirus (CMV). A great majority of people have been exposed to this virus in childhood so identifying those without CMV is important in treating babies with brand new immune systems or people with poor immune systems. Similarly, to make the very best match for people with sickle cell disease they need blood with certain antigens (protein molecules) on the surface of the red blood cells. One in three people who are of Black African and Black Caribbean decent have this needed blood subtype that is a match for sickle cell patients. Think about how extra special your blood might be to someone with a very specific need. The more people who donate, the more supply there is to choose from, and then more donors can be identified to help care for unique needs.

You can also think about blood donation from the benefit to yourself. Donating is like a little free wellness checkup – your blood pressure, pulse, and temperature are taken, and your iron count and cholesterol are screened. You get to experience that warm fuzzy feeling from doing good. It gives you something different to say when you are asked what you’ve been up to lately. You can add “life saving” to the list of accomplishments for the day. Your body replenishes what you give; your red blood cells are replaced in about six weeks so you can give without permanently being without. I see blood donation as the easiest community service you can do. You recline in a chair while one or two people fuss over your arm and then you enjoy a snack. Think about how a little bit of your time can convert to years of life for someone else.

Several years ago, I came out of the pediatrician’s office to find a note on the windshield of my car. The woman who left the note had noticed the sticker on my passenger rear window that mentioned blood donation. The note read: “(I saw your blood donor sticker) My now six-year-old son was saved three years ago today by a blood donor. He started first grade today, thanks to people like you. With all my heart – Thank you and may God bless you deeply.”

After three years this mom was still feeling the impact of lifesaving blood for her son and the gratitude was strong enough to prompt her to write a note to a stranger. I was and still am grateful to be the recipient of that note. I think about this mom and son, and I think about the real lives that are impacted by blood donation. I hope you think about it too . . . and give blood.