Giving blood means giving life &mdash consider being a donor this month

June 20, 2012

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Have you ever given blood? If you have, consider yourself a hero. The World Health Organization, WHO, already does.

"Every blood donor is a hero" is the theme of World Blood Donor Day 2012. The day honors the people who save lives every day through blood donations. It helps raise awareness of the great need for safe blood and blood products. It also reminds more people around the world to volunteer to donate blood. The day is celebrated on June 14 each year. But blood is needed every day.

The American Red Cross reports that every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. A single car accident victim may need as many as 100 pints.

The transfusion of blood helps save millions of lives a year. It can help people with life-threatening conditions live longer, or have a better quality of life. It also helps support many medical treatments.

A blood transfusion is the delivery of blood or blood products into a patient's bloodstream. There are many reasons people need transfusions. Among them are surgery, injury, cancer and other illnesses, and severe burns.

More than one million people are diagnosed with cancer each year. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during chemotherapy. And sickle cell disease affects more than 80,000 people in the U.S. Sickle cell patients may need frequent blood transfusions.

As the experts at MayoClinic.com explain, scientists are working to develop an artificial blood. But so far, there is no substitute for human blood. People in need depend on the generosity of donors.

Did you know one unit of blood can help more than one person?

Patients may need whole blood, or just parts of the blood. This allows several patients to benefit from one pint of donated whole blood.

Today, we take blood transfusions for granted. But it took hundreds of years of work to make them safe and effective. As recently as 1873, doctors were trying to use milk in transfusions.

One of the biggest advances was the discovery of blood types in the early 1900s. While all blood is made up of the same basic elements, not all blood is alike. In fact, there are eight different common blood types.

Safe transfusing depends on identifying the blood type. It also requires careful matching of the donor to the recipient. When they are not matched, it can cause serious problems. The patient's immune system may attack the transfused blood.

What does it take to donate blood?

First of all, it takes a person who cares about others. More than 38,000 blood donations are needed every day. Beyond that, the basic guidelines are simple. You need to be healthy. Illnesses such as diabetes may not keep you from giving if they are controlled. You need to be at least 16 or 17 years of age. It depends on which state you call home. And you need to weigh more than 110 pounds.

Donating blood is very safe. You even get a free mini-physical.

The process includes four steps: registration, medical history and mini-physical, donation, and refreshments. Every donor is given a mini-physical. It checks the donor's temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and level of iron in the blood. These steps make sure it is safe for the donor to give blood.

A sterile needle is used only once for each donor and then discarded. You cannot contract AIDS from donating blood.

Many steps keep the blood supply safe.

Over a dozen tests are performed on each unit of donated blood. Some identify the blood type. Others test for HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other infectious diseases. If a test result is positive, the blood is discarded, and the donor is notified. Test results are confidential. They are shared only with the donor, except as may be required by law.

When you give blood, what you're really doing is giving the gift of life. So let World Blood Donor Day be your inspiration. Do something heroic and donate blood.