In the United States alone, every 2 seconds, an individual needs a blood transfusion; the difference between receiving or not receiving blood is quite literally a matter of life or death. Blood donations can go on to serve those in need in a variety of ways, including to help recover blood loss after serious injury, during surgery, in cancer treatments, anemia treatments, blood disorder treatments, and in research of various diseases among many other instances. However, unlike many treatments and procedures in the medical field, blood supplies primarily rely on members of the community personally taking initiative to donate their blood to help others, as certain components of blood cannot be artificially made but must come from volunteer donors. With only approximately 3% of eligible adults donating blood, it is pertinent that individuals understand the tremendous impact they can make on the lives of many—as one pint of blood can save up to 3 lives.
In understanding the importance of donating blood, it is valuable to understand the components of blood, blood types, and how these intricacies influence the way blood is utilized in the field of healthcare. Blood can primarily be broken down into 4 parts: red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma, and platelets. Red blood cells are the cells in the bloodstream that provide oxygen to all parts of the body, as well as remove carbon dioxide from these parts. White blood cells are the immune cells that protect your body from illness. Plasma is the serum through which all the cells and nutrients in the blood are carried through the body. Platelets are fragments of cells that are essential to the process of clotting, and essentially prevent the body from bleeding out completely as a result of a cut or lesion. Each of these components have unique roles when it comes to blood donations, with approximately 29,000 units of red blood cells, 5,000 units of platelets, and 6,500 units of plasma needed daily in the U.S.. Additionally, a donor’s blood type influences who they can serve as a donor for; for example, individuals with type O negative blood are able to donate to all people and are considered the universal donor. Alternatively, individuals with AB positive blood are considered the universal recipient and can receive blood from donors of any blood type. Therefore, in the medical setting, it is not only important to have large quantities of blood but also a wide diversity of blood types available so that patients of all blood types can have access to blood if needed.
The Red Cross, along with other organizations, set up national blood drives to help collect more blood donations to ensure that hospitals have adequate supplies to treat their patients, because the consequences of insufficient blood supplies are rather dire. In January 2022, the American Red Cross declared its first national blood shortage; with decreased donations since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization began to deplete its resources without sufficient replenishment from new donors. For many patients dependent on frequent blood transfusions, this was an alarming situation that not only led to the worsening of their condition but led them to fear for their lives. Thankfully, the public responded fervently to the national blood shortage announcement and began donating to help replenish blood bank reserves to stable levels.
It goes without saying that a 30 minute visit to a blood donation site can change the trajectory of multiple lives of people who end up receiving the donations. Learn more about how you can donate by visiting https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive.