Why You Should Donate Blood

The need is great and only 6 percent of the population actually takes the time to do it

By Nancy Cardillo

It takes just about one hour to roll up your sleeve and help save lives. And if you’ve never donated blood or platelets, now is the time since the demand continues high.

“One car accident victim uses, on average, 100 units [pints] of blood,” says Patty Corvaia, external communications manager for American Red Cross. “Each day, the Red Cross distributes approximately 750 units throughout New York state and 10 counties in Pennsylvania. We are also part of the national network and help wherever we can. You never know when blood will be needed or who will need it. It’s important to keep up the supply levels, particularly for urgent, unexpected trauma needs. Those who donate blood provide a huge, vital service to the community.”

Yet while most people can donate blood, less than 6 percent of the population actually does. Why is that?

“The number one reason people don’t donate is that they haven’t been asked,” says Amanda Farrell, director of blood recruitment for Unyts, an organization that supplies 35,000 units of platelets, red cells and other byproducts to several local hospitals and medical centers. “There’s not enough awareness of how much blood is needed, how easy it is to donate and how far a donation can go in helping others.”

Roswell Park Cancer Institute annually transfuses approximately 15,000 blood products at its 100-bed facility that’s more than all of the other Western New York hospitals combined.

“Cancer patients require a lot of transfusions,” says Maria Turner, marketing and communications manager for Roswell’s department of pathology and laboratory medicine. “The demand is always so high that it’s a challenge to keep up. In addition to having a donor center onsite here at Roswell Park, we also receive blood products from vendors across the country to ensure our patients always have what they need.”

Richard Casseri is a 76-year-old retiree who has been donating blood and platelets for over 45 years. He donates through Roswell Park Cancer Institute 24 times per year. Why does he do it? “I’ve been blessed with good health and I’m happy to share it,” says Casseri. “I don’t need a pat on the back, but it’s always very nice to hear how the platelets I donate helps others. It touches me, and makes it really worth it to help others.”

Thinking of Becoming a Blood Donor?

Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about donating blood:

Who can donate blood?

In general, anyone 16 or older can donate throughout their lifetime, assuming they meet the eligibility requirements. If, however, you’re sick with a cold or the flu, have specific health conditions, have traveled to certain locations, had a tattoo within a year or are on certain medications, you won’t be eligible. “All blood banks are regulated by the Food & Drug Administration, so there are strict guidelines for donating,” says Corvaia. “Potential donors must be screened, which keeps the entire process safe for everyone involved.”

What can be donated?

A person can donate whole blood, double red cells or platelets. Donating whole blood takes about 45 minutes and can be done every 56 days. Donating double red cells or platelets takes about one hour. Double red calls can be donated every 112 days; platelets can be donated every seven days, up to 24 times per year. A typical donation is one unit, which amounts to approximately one pint.

Is donating blood safe?

“Donating blood is extremely safe for everyone involved,” says Farrell. “Before someone donates blood, we check their iron levels, temperature, pulse and blood pressure. We use only single-use needles and before the blood is distributed, it’s subjected to a battery of tests.”

What is most needed?

O-negative is the hardest-to-come-by blood type, as just 7 percent of the population has it (O and A positive are the most common blood types). Platelets, which are utilized by cancer patients during chemotherapy, are always in high demand.

What happens when I donate blood?

Depending on where you choose to donate, you will either fill out a pre-screening application online or in person. You will need a photo ID when you donate. Once approved, your vitals will be checked and then you’re ready to donate. The actual collection takes 5-15 minutes, during which time you can read, use electronic devices or simply relax. Once you’re done, you’ll be asked to sit for a while to ensure you’re feeling well. You’ll be given juice and snacks at that time.

How will my blood be used?

Donated blood products are used in many ways: to treat patients with blood disorders, such as leukemia, or chronic illness, such as sickle cell anemia; for trauma patients, such as car accident victims; burn patients; during surgery and for organ transplant and cancer patients.

Do I need to prepare to donate blood?

“We recommend you drink plenty of water in the days leading up to your donation. Eating iron-rich food and getting plenty of rest is also a good idea,” says Corvaia. After you’ve donated, you can simply go about your day, though it’s recommended you avoid strenuous activity for 24 hours.

Why is it important to donate blood?

“There is no substitute for human blood,” says Farrell. “Donated blood must be used within a certain time period after donation, and you never know when it will be needed. It’s important to stay ahead of the demand.”

Where can I donate blood?

Western New Yorkers have several options for donating blood.

The Red Cross: go to redcross.org, type in your zip code and donation sites and blood drives near you will pop up. You can register online or call 1-800-REDCROSS.

Unyts: Unyts has four neighborhood donation centers in the area and annually conducts 800 blood drives in Erie, Wyoming and Niagara counties. Visit Unyts.org, search by date, zip code, etc., to find the most convenient location. Appointments can be made online, by phone or as a walk-in.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute: donations can be made through the Donor Center (www.roswellpark.org/donor-center), which is located on the ground floor of the hospital. The Center is open six days a week; appointments can be made online, via phone or email – or as walk-ins.