Why should I donate blood?

whydonateblood_largeNot everyone is always qualified or physically able to donate blood. But if you’re among those who can donate, your willingness to help will save lives.

On average, someone in the United States needs blood every two seconds. That blood has to be donated from someone else – we don’t have a synthetic substitute.

“The blood products provided to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center from volunteer donors are directly responsible for helping us save lives every day,” says Dr. Scott Scrape, a pathologist and director of Transfusion Medicine at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.

Now, especially, your decision to donate blood can make a big difference to people in your community. The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a blood shortage, and many hospitals — including some in central Ohio — now face a critical need to get blood to their patients as the pace of everyday activities begins to return to normal.

Who needs donated blood?

Donated blood products (whole blood, red blood cells, platelets and plasma) are used for many conditions and procedures, including: 

  • Cell-based immunotherapy
  • Stem-cell transplants
  • Bone-marrow transplants
  • Organ transplants and other surgeries
  • Pregnancy complications, such as ectopic pregnancies or hemorrhage associated with childbirth
  • Severe anemia
  • Traumatic wounds
  • Burns
  • Blood disorders such as sickle cell disease, hemophilia and thalassemia

Some of these conditions create short-term emergencies in which someone urgently needs blood. Those with some other conditions, though, require blood products administered at regular intervals for their entire lives.

The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, a large academic medical center that sees about 65,000 patient admissions each year, needs about 5,000 blood products each month, Scrape says.

“That’s about six to seven blood products every hour of every day.”

About 38 percent of adults in the U.S. are eligible to donate blood, but less than 10 percent donate each year.

Because patients’ blood types determine which other blood types they can receive through transfusion, some donor blood is especially valuable. Type O- blood is always in demand because it can be given to patients of all blood types. It’s often in short supply, though, because only 7 percent of Americans have type O- blood.

How do I benefit from donating?

One unit of blood – about a pint, the amount that’s collected with one blood donation – can be used to save up to three lives, according to the American Red Cross.

Lou Flocken, special assistant to the executive director of Ohio State East Hospital, began giving blood in 1991, and he’s since managed to donate 64 units of blood.

“It’s a very personal thing to donate blood – to give life from your body – so it does take a little bit of commitment and consideration,” he says.

“I donate because of the huge difference I know I’m making in people’s lives. It’s not just patients, but their loved ones. One unit of blood can help as many as three people, but if you expand that number to each of those people’s loved ones, imagine how many people you’ve impacted.”

Aside from the satisfaction of helping others, there is some research that links regular blood donation to lowered cholesterol and some other health benefits.

What can I expect when donating blood?

The actual blood collection takes about 10 minutes, though the whole donation process typically takes about an hour. That process includes registration; a quick, private medical screening and health history review; blood collection; and relaxing afterward with refreshments.

Giving blood generally isn’t painful. You might feel a pinch or sting when the needle is first inserted, and/or some brief discomfort.

“It’s not a traumatic process,” Flocken points out. “Yes, there is that sting, but it quickly goes away.”

After donating, some people feel nauseated, lightheaded or dizzy for a few minutes. This is why you should take your time relaxing afterward and enjoying some of the free refreshments often provided at donation sites. 

You may find as part of the health screening process that you’re ineligible because of your medical history, prescription medication you take or because you’ve recently traveled to a country where there are currently high rates of certain diseases.

As part of the screening, a drop of blood is collected from a finger prick to test your blood’s hemoglobin, a protein that helps carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. You may be ineligible to donate that day if your hemoglobin count is below 13 gm/dl (for men) or 12.5 gm/dl (for women).

The bottom line

Donating blood is safe – blood drives such as those held by the American Red Cross or blood supplier Versiti Inc. use sterile kits that are used once, then discarded. You can’t contract any diseases from donating blood.

Donating blood is a way to help others without having to give money or a considerable amount of time.

“Some of us can’t afford to donate money, but this is a way to make an incredible impact, and it’s so easy for many of us to do,” Flocken says.