Nicole Greco, blood donor recruiter at Somerset Medical Center
It’s no secret that the thought of having blood drawn makes many people feel anxious and uncomfortable. Whether it is the pinch of the needle or the sight of the blood, the experience can be nerve-wracking. However, it is for this very reason that January was declared National Blood Donor Month roughly 40 years ago, to take a few minutes from our busy lives to thank people who donate blood regularly. Blood donors selflessly share the very thing that courses through their veins and keeps them alive, to a person who may never know their name. Whether it was a young child who received the donation after an oncology procedure, or a father of three who was able to once again hold his wife and children after a car crash, a blood donor’s gift is the gift of life.
In addition to thanking those who consistently donate blood, National Blood Donor Month was established to create awareness of not only the necessity of blood donations but also the advances in technology that make donation easier and save more lives. With 9 out of 10 people needing blood at one point in their lives, and only 3.6 percent of New Jersey residents donating on a regular basis (vs. 5 percent nationally), New Jersey hospitals are frequently forced to look to other states to save its own residents.
According to the American Red Cross, the United States needs 44,000 blood donations a day to ensure that everyone who needs blood has it. This translates to a need for several hundred donations per month in our area. For example, the Blood Donor Program at Somerset Medical Center must collect 300 donations each month to meet the needs of patients in the hospital itself and the Steeplechase Cancer Center. There are also certain blood types that are in higher demand because of how rare they are. The “universal donor” for example, has a blood type of O negative and can donate blood to all other blood types. However, these people can only receive a blood donation from another person with type O negative blood. It is for this reason that the universal donor will always be in high demand among blood banks; however, with all blood only having a 42-day shelf life, there is a constant need for all blood types to donate regularly.
Anyone over the age of 16, who weighs at least 110 pounds and is in good health, can donate blood, and new technologies have allowed for donors to give life-saving blood components more often and save more lives. A single whole blood donation can save up to three lives, but instead of only donating whole blood, blood banks with the proper equipment can also receive plasma and platelet and red blood cell donations- components critical to certain cancer treatments, dialysis and therapies to stop internal bleeding. Automated donation machines are designed to separate these important components from the blood stream and return the remaining fluids to the donor. Plasma and platelet donors can also give blood twice as often as whole blood donors, who typically must wait 56 days between donations.
Stop by your local blood bank this January to learn more about the blood donation process and requirements, find out what blood type you are, or simply thank those who work so hard and give so much to ensure that blood will always be available to you and your loved ones during times of need. If you don’t qualify to donate blood, or if the process is too nerve-wracking for you, look into how you can donate your time instead by helping to recruit others. Many of the best donors say they were inspired to give when someone in their life talked about blood donation. If you can’t give, but believe in the power of helping others, introduce the idea to your family and friends. There is no greater gift you can give than the gift of life.