Blood is, so far, not something we can manufacture in a lab. We’ve come a long way in reducing the need for blood transfusions, with new surgical innovations to minimize blood loss in the operating room, and drugs to help a body boost its own blood cell production, but in the end, many patients can only be helped by a blood transfusion.
When your bone marrow stops making new cells, because of disease or because the chemotherapy for your cancer has killed your production system, you need a transfusion. If you have a clotting disorder or you’ve overdosed on heparin and are at risk of bleeding to death, you need a blood transfusion. If you’re having heart surgery, you need a blood transfusion. If you’ve been in a crash and you left half of your blood at the scene, you need a blood transfusion. If you’re born premature because your mother’s antibodies were attacking your blood cells in utero, you need a blood transfusion. If your peptic ulcer, colon cancer, or intestinal polyps have been bleeding undetected, and you’re fainting because your hemoglobin levels are so low, you need a blood transfusion.
At my hospital alone, we’re transfusing almost 700 units of blood, platelets, and plasma every month. And that’s with careful guidelines in place to make sure only those who really need this blood are getting it. We hold a blood drive every two months, and we rarely collect over 30 units of blood. The American Red Cross donor centers do better, but sometimes it’s hard for them to keep up with demand. Right now levels of all Rh-negative blood are so low that we may have to contemplate putting off some surgeries in case we can’t supply the blood the surgeon needs.
I know some people have moral issues with the Red Cross, specifically with their deferral of all male donors who have had sex with other men. Excluding gay men from the donor pool is not a decision that I personally agree with, but I don’t think that my dislike of the Red Cross’ rules should be enough keep me from donating blood and helping someone. I can show my disagreement with that rule in other ways, so why boycott the Red Cross and refuse to donate, when my blood might make a difference?
I’ll be wandering the hospital today, trying to encourage nurses and doctors and everyone else to roll up a sleeve on Monday for my hospital’s blood drive and give an hour of their day and a pint of their blood for someone who needs it. It’s a thankless job – most people try to avoid eye contact and I end up feeling like a telemarketer. But in the end, every person who shows up to donate is a hero, so I’ll put up with the discomfort and do my part to help get people giving.
Please donate. Anytime. Whatever your blood type. You can find donor centers and blood drives near you with this link, and you can learn more about blood and the donation process here. Please share this information, because the need for blood is constant – and every donation helps.