I’m sure most of us have seen the advertisements and the campaigns for different causes over the year – like when everything is covered in pink during October. But it often feels like those campaigns only show up a couple times over the course of the year, not for each month.
That’s not true, though. There are causes assigned to all the months of the year, their PR just isn’t as widespread as the awareness campaign for breast cancer and breast cancer research. So, over the course of the year, I’m going to share a cause during its awareness month. I will also provide links, should you want more information about donating or fundraising for the campaign.
To start off 2022, January is National Blood Donor Month.
It’s not as widely celebrated or advertised as some other months but I think that should change. I’m going to take the time today to share a little information about blood donation and hopefully inspire more people to donate blood and blood products (if you’re able to, of course).
First off, let’s start with the fact that there are different types of blood donation, all of which are important in their own ways. Did you know that there were different types?
- You can donate whole blood – which is what most people think of when they imagine blood donations. These are the bags of blood you picture Edward Cullen using like a Capri Sun.
- You can donate blood platelets – which is a longer process than donating whole blood or plasma, taking several hours, and is used to treat patients with clotting issues and blood disorders. Blood is drawn in a similar fashion to a whole blood donation, then the blood is processed via a blood cell separator, which extracts the platelets to be stored for later and then returns the blood cells and plasma back to the donor.
- You can donate blood plasma – which is the slightly yellowed liquid part of blood, composed of mostly water and some vitamins and proteins that are integral in treating trauma patients and patients with clotting issues. During plasma donations, the blood is drawn, and the plasma is filtered and frozen while the red blood cells and platelets are returned to the donor along with some saline.
- You can donate red blood cells – which the American Red Cross refers to as “Power Red” donations. This is like the platelet and plasma donations, but only takes about 30 minutes longer than a standard whole blood donation.
Cedars-Sinai says that every two seconds someone in the United States will need blood. Blood is needed for chemotherapy patients, surgery patients, traumatic injury patients, and patients with certain chronic illnesses – millions of people who will need blood every day.
You might be thinking to yourself “but what if I have the wrong type? Why should I donate blood if no one is going to need it?” Well, blood donation doesn’t really have a wrong type – all blood types are appreciated and help save lives. It is especially crucial for potential donors with the “universal donor” blood-type (type O-negative), as it is the blood type of which hospitals are most likely to have a low stock. Like the moniker “universal donor” suggests, type O-negative can be given in emergency situations to patients regardless of their blood type. Another blood type that is greatly needed is the rarest blood-type, AB-negative. Less than 1% of the U.S. population has AB-negative blood.
Another aspect that people may not consider when deciding whether to donate blood is the Rhesus factor (Rh) – the presence of the Rhesus protein in the blood. Rh compatibility is especially important in pregnancy, which is where most of you have probably heard of the Rhesus factor. Incompatibility between an Rh-negative mother and an Rh-positive fetus does not usually impact the first Rh-incompatible pregnancy but can lead to brain injury, severe disability, or even miscarriage/stillbirth in subsequent Rh-incompatible pregnancies. You might have read about Australia’s Man with the Golden Arm, James Harrison – whose 1000+ blood donations over 60 years saved millions of lives in situations of Rh-incompatible pregnancies. Like Rh-positive versus Rh-negative, the incredibly rare Rh-null blood types need to be factored in when donating blood too. Rh-null blood types will have adverse reactions to blood transfusions from Rh-positive and Rh-negative blood. If you’re able to donate blood or blood products and you know that you have Rh-null blood, consider making an appointment at a local blood drive to increase the availability of this blood for those who need it.
The Association for the Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies (AABB) has reported that National Blood Donor Month 2022 has seen the (U.S.) national blood supply is at some of the lowest levels in recent years. Donation rates do tend to drop during winter months due to cold and flu season, but the COVID-19 pandemic variants have also impacted the amount of people donating; this has left blood banks with dwindling supplies. Blood donation organizations like the AABB, the American Red Cross, LifeStream, and America’s Blood Centers have been trying to inspire their communities to donate blood/blood products.
This is not to say that you should only donate blood during January. In fact, if becoming a blood donor is something that you want to do, you should donate regularly throughout the year. For donations of whole blood, it is recommended that your donations be spaced at a minimum of eight weeks (56 days) apart or 6 times per year, while platelet apheresis donors can donate up to 24 times per year with a minimum of 7 days between donations. If you plan on donating plasma through the American Red Cross, they recommend plasma be donated no more than every 28 days, or a limit of 13 times per year. If you decide to make red blood cell donations instead of any of the other options, the American Red Cross recommends giving yourself at least 112 days between donations – or donating no more frequently than every 4 months. Especially in the event of a disaster or tragedy, blood banks recommend that people continue to donate – too often people rush to donate to disaster relief organizations in the immediate wake, leaving people in need after the first few weeks’ supplies and donations are used up.
I keep mentioning “if you can” or “if you choose to” in my post because bodily autonomy is important and because I know that there are people out there who are unable to donate due to personal beliefs and/or medical history. The American Red Cross website does have a list of eligibility criteria – it’s not all-inclusive but it’s a good start and good coverage of the most asked about situations. Always double-check with the organization you’re donating with and make sure that you meet their eligibility requirements before going to your appointment site.
If you can donate blood, please look on the AABB Blood Donation Site Locator or the American Red Cross Find a Drive features to find a site near you to schedule an appointment.
I know that not everyone can donate blood but if this post has you wishing that you could do something to help, please consider sponsoring a blood drive event in your community or just share some of this information with your friends and loved ones. Now that you know a little bit more, I hope that you will join me in celebrating them this January in honor of National Blood Donor Month.
“Blood Types: Pregnancy, Donation, Rare Types.” Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/21213-blood-types.
“Facts about Blood Donation.” Cedars, https://www.cedars-sinai.org/programs/blood-donor-services/about-donation.html.
Joint Statement: Blood Donors Urgently Needed During National Blood Donor Month https://www.aabb.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/positions/joint-statement-blood-donors-urgently-needed-during-national-blood-donor-month.pdf?sfvrsn=4506f62e_6.
“Rh Factor Blood Test.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 17 June 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/rh-factor/about/pac-20394960.
“Types of Blood Donations.” Explained | Red Cross Blood Services, https://www.redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/how-to-donate/types-of-blood-donations.html.
“US Blood Supply Facts.” Facts About Blood Supply In The U.S. | Red Cross Blood Services, https://www.redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/how-to-donate/how-blood-donations-help/blood-needs-blood-supply.html.