Donate Life – Donate Blood

| Featured, Graceful Health, News
Timothy Shafer

By Dr. Tim Shafer, Grace Cottage Family Health

What can you do this month that is an act of pure generosity, profoundly helps another human being, engages you in an ongoing community ritual of life saving altruism, is free, easy, and even good for your health? The answer is easy….. Give blood!

We all have about 1.5 gallons of blood swishing around inside us. It transports oxygen and nutrients to every cell in our body, then picks up the carbon dioxide and other waste products to take back to the lungs and kidneys to dispose of. It is full of white blood cells and immunoglobulins to protect us from infection, and it is packed with clotting agents to patch leaking blood vessels. The liquid portion is full of dissolved salts and small proteins to bathe our cells in a nourishing broth that sustains cell membranes and the vibrant functioning of every cell, organ, nerve, and muscle.

Blood is self-regenerating, and we have enough to share! A healthy body with enough nutrients can rapidly replace a donated pint. A few glasses of water build up the fluid donation. The bone marrow happily kicks into overdrive to produce more red and white blood cells and platelets. The liver can crank out the little proteins that have been donated and the kidneys quickly sort out the proper balance of salts in the blood. There is good evidence that blood donors live longer, so maybe the challenge is even good for us.

That donated pint goes on a magical journey. It is soon analyzed to confirm blood type, Rh protein, and rule out any sign of active or latent infection. When it passes this scrupulous screening it is divided into components. The concentrated red blood cells may go to save a victim of acute trauma, sustain someone fighting cancer who temporarily has a suppressed bone marrow, help a premature baby with anemia, or allow critical surgery to go forward. The serum which is the fluid portion, plus clotting factors and proteins, is critically important in severe trauma, major blood loss, and major surgery. The platelets, which are tiny cell fragments that form the first line of blood clotting defense, may go to another blood loss victim or cancer patient. Every component is scrupulously used according to carefully developed protocols.

The need for blood donation is profound and never ending. Our amazing emergency departments, hospitals, cancer treatment centers, and surgical suites literally cannot function without blood products. It is the life blood of the medical system!

Let’s face it: April can be yucky with rain, sleep, late snow, mud underfoot, too late to ski, too early to garden. But it is warm, bright, welcoming, and cheerful at the blood donation centers!

There are screening questions to make sure that you are healthy, not likely to be carrying any latent diseases such as hepatitis or HIV, and screening of medications you are taking. Next you are interviewed by a member of the staff; pulse, blood pressure, and temperature are checked, and a blood count is measured with a drop of blood. You will be asked multiple times to confirm your identity and that you wish to proceed.

Then the donation specialist makes you comfortable lying back on a couch with your legs up. Your arm with the best vein is selected, scrubbed with disinfectant, a tourniquet applied and with the momentary pinch of a needle the donation begins. You simply relax, squeeze a soft toy gently with your hand to encourage blood flow, and in a few minutes it is over. The needle is whisked out, and a firm, compressive bandage applied.

Free juice, snacks, and a chance to chat with other donors wraps up the process. You are given a sheet of discharge instructions, a number to call with any questions, and the date of your next potential donation 8 weeks later. Often you get a free T-shirt or other cool swag to show off to the world that you have done your bit!

Nearly everybody in reasonable health is eligible, including those of us with well-managed chronic conditions such as hypertension or diabetes. Minimal weight is 110 pounds. Populations that previously were not eligible can now give blood, so double check your eligibility on the Red Cross website.

Please think about someone you know whose life has been sustained by an anonymous donor and think ahead to the day when you may need the life blood given by someone you will never meet. Then look up the Red Cross donation website ( on your phone or computer and sign up to join the proud community that shares life.