American hospitals are chronically short of an important supply: transfusable blood. In fact, hospitals in some cities have been so short that elective surgical procedures have had to be canceled. In 2012, the American healthcare system experienced one of the worst shortages on record, with almost 90 percent of the country having less than a day’s supply available. The problem was particularly bad in the Northeast.
The shortages weren’t due to vampires. The American Red Cross, one of the largest organizations collecting and processing blood donations, said there simply weren’t enough donors to meet demand. Currently, only about five percent of eligible donors give blood. That’s why January is National Blood Donor Month. Federal law prohibits paying people for blood—studies show that the practice compromises the safety of the blood supply—but by taking an hour every three months, you can save lives.
Eligibility requirements to donate blood include:
- Being at least 17; some states allow 16-year-olds to donate blood with parental permission.
- Not having acute infections.
- Not using blood thinners such as coumadin.
- Blood pressure between 80/50 and 180/100 (normal blood pressure is 120 systolic/80 diastolic).
- Not having a blood transfusion in the U.S. in the preceding 12 months, or in the United Kingdom since 1980.
- Not having sickle-cell disease, though the sickle-cell trait without the disease is acceptable.
- A male prospective donor cannot have had sexual relations with a man since 1977, per Federal law.
- Weighing at least 110 pounds.
Your local blood center can determine, confidentially, whether you’re eligible to donate, based on your lifestyle and medical history.
When you come to donate, you will need to show some ID, generally two forms or a Donor Identification Card. There is a private interview to determine whether you have any conditions that might keep you from donating, and then a simple examination to check your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. The blood draw itself uses a new sterile needle, and it takes about ten minutes to collect a pint of blood. After you’ve had about 15 minutes to recover and restore fluids or electrolytes, you are done. You can return eight weeks later to help more people live out their lives.