If a doctor called you and said, “Your best friend is in the hospital, and we need you to donate blood or she will die,” you would no doubt jump into the car and head over without a second thought.
A blood infusion probably saved someone you know; you just may not realize it. So why not donate now? Donating blood is the easiest way for most of us to save a life — or even many lives. In fact, every two seconds in the U.S. someone needs blood to live. Know someone with cancer? Most people who receive chemotherapy require blood transfusions during treatment.
Because of requirements, only about 38 percent of the population is eligible to give. Yet thousands of eligible donors don’t give. People often cite a fear of needles or say they are too busy. January is National Blood Donor Month. We ask you to summon your courage and schedule a donation. Supplies run critically low around the holiday season and just following. Here’s what to know.
Finding a Blood Drive
Blood drives occur nearly every day in Wake and the surrounding counties. You can locate a drive via The American Red Cross or through The Blood Connection. Some drives occur in those organization’s offices, while others are on buses or at an office park. If you’re struggling to find a blood drive near you at a good time, you can work with those groups to organize your own blood drive.
The Donation Process
The donation itself takes less than 15 minutes, usually under 10. However, it’s best to set aside 45 minutes from your arrival time for donation. When you arrive, you are checked in and then go through a screening process. During the screening, you’ll answer questions on a computer to make sure you are eligible to donate. That process is private and confidential. A health professional will also prick your finger and do a quick iron test; if your iron count is too low, you cannot donate.
You will then lay down on a special donation chair that reclines. You can choose which arm is more comfortable for you. (Right-handers may prefer to donate out of their left arm, for example.) The phlebotomist will clean your arm, set up the donation bag, and scan the barcode to confirm everything is correct. He or she will ask your name and birthdate as well. Once he or she inserts the needle, you will squeeze a rubber ball and lie back. Although the needle may pinch, once inserted, it’s usually not noticeable. Many people listen to music or podcasts or just relax during their donation. Depending on the equipment, your machine will likely beep to indicate you have filled the donation bag. Your technician will close the bag but will then fill a few vials of blood separately for testing; this does not require a separate needle.
Once finished, he or she will remove the needle and ask you to hold pressure on the cut. You’ll then get a bandage. Sit back, relax, and have a snack and some water, juice, or soda. It’s best to sit for about 15 minutes. Here are answers to common questions about blood donation.
When donated, your blood is processed, tested, and stored for up to 42 days. Most blood is used locally, which means you can save someone’s life right here in the Triangle.
If You’re “A Fainter” or Fear Needles
Donating blood causes no harm, but some people become lightheaded or don’t feel well during or after donation. Some people are also “fainters,” meaning they faint at the sight of needles, blood, or after blood donation. If this describes you, here is what you can do:
- Tell the donation team if you have fainted previously during donation or tend to feel lightheaded. They will make sure you remain safe and supply you with extra fluids and snacks.
- Eat a good meal before donating. Many people feel lightheaded afterward because they did not eat enough food. Eat lean and iron-rich food such as red meat, liver, dark greens and colorful vegetables. Schedule your donation for two or three hours after eating if possible. If you tend to have low blood pressure, eat salty foods before donating.
- Drink plenty of fluids before and after donating. We mean it! Load up on water and juice hours before; this will help! You’re aiming for at least 500 mL. Avoid alcohol the night before.
- Get lots of sleep the night before donating and skip your exercise routine that day and the next.
Fainting while giving blood is usually psychological, rather than physical. Of course, feeling apprehensive about needles or the idea of fainting is quite reasonable. No one likes needles and, of course, it will hurt a little. Make it a bit easier:
- Don’t watch the technician insert the needle.
- Distract yourself with a book or listen to music.
- Let someone know if you don’t feel well.
Did You Know?
- The first successful blood transfusion was in 1665 in England with dogs.
- In 1818, James Blundell performed the first successful blood transfusion of human blood to treat postpartum hemorrhage.
- The first blood bank was established in 1932.
- Around 1939, the Rh blood group is discovered and recognized as the cause behind most transfusion reactions.
- In 1970, blood banks move towards an all-volunteer donor base.
- Source: https://stanfordbloodcenter.org/a-brief-history-of-blood-transfusion-through-the-years/
A Story from a Triangle Woman
Recently, a woman in Raleigh helped organize a blood drive. She shared this on her event posting: Last September during labor with baby No. 3, things took an unexpected turn for the worst. My heart stopped, my lungs stopped, and I bled. A lot. It took 28 units of blood to save my life. I ask you, will you consider taking 30 minutes to save a life? The people that did one year ago saved mine. -Harmony, of Shop Local Raleigh