Become a Lifesaver
Blood donors are heroes. By donating blood you can save a life. That's because no chemical, drug or fluid can replace blood in a real emergency. Blood collections are rising, which is good news. The bad news is, the demand is increasing faster than collections, and the nation's blood banks are facing persistent supply problems, national blood-supply groups say.
Donations traditionally slump during the Christmas holiday season, as colleges, schools and businesses that normally host blood drives close and families take vacations. An outbreak of influenza and bad weather also can affect donations.
Maintaining an adequate amount of blood for surgeries, trauma victims and treatment of diseases can be problematic.
Every day about 38,000 units of red blood cells are given to Americans. Blood transfusions are used for trauma victims, patients needing surgery, and those getting treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell anemia.
Why is blood use rising?
About 4.5 million people receive blood transfusions in the United States every year, and that number is expected to rise for several reasons:
- As the U.S. population grows older, the number of surgeries that require transfusions (heart, knee-replacement, and hip-replacement operations, for example) will likely rise as well.
- Procedures and surgeries that require numerous transfusions are becoming more common. A bone-marrow transplant patient needs three weeks of transfusions, and a person undergoing a liver-transplant operation requires 20 units of blood or more.
The basics of blood donation
Blood is separated into three components: red blood cells, which can be stored for 42 days; platelets, which last five days, and plasma, which can be frozen for as long as one year. You can give blood every eight weeks, plasma twice a week and platelets 24 times a year. Type O blood is the most commonly used because it can be safely transfused to people of all blood types.