By Gordon Williams
When Megan Hall of Pullman WA donates blood, it is her way of saying “thank you” to the American Red Cross whose blood collection program helped save her life.
Americans donate nearly 14 million units of blood each year (each unit being around a pint), and 40 percent of that total passes through Red Cross Blood Services. The blood is for use by hospital patients whose lives may depend on receiving it when it is needed the most. Somewhere in the United States, a unit of human blood is transfused every two seconds– to an accident victim, a cancer patient, or maybe a victim of sickle cell disease.
Not so long ago, Hall was herself a hospital patient–dangerously ill and in dire need of blood.
Hall was giving birth to her first child, last June, when she began to hemorrhage. There had been no warning of trouble, “I had no problems during my pregnancy,” Megan says, but suddenly she was in trouble and needed blood to replace what she had lost.
This was deep into the COVID pandemic. Blood donations had slowed and Hall was told the hospital’s blood supply was dangerously low. Still, she got the transfusion she needed.
A week later, she began suffering pains which, she says “would not go away.” That brought her back to the hospital–this time for emergency surgery. “During surgery,” Megan says, “I hemorrhaged and lost a significant amount of blood. The blood transfusion I received during and after surgery [two more units of blood in addition to that first unit] saved my life.”
For the workers in Red Cross Blood Services, it is such stories of lives saved that keep them on the job. Red Cross teams across the U.S. hold an average of 520 blood drives a day. Every unit of blood they collect can be used to save three lives. Sickle cell patients may need as many as 100 blood transfusions a year. A single accident victim may require 100 units of transfused blood.
By October, Megan–who teaches writing at Washington State University–felt fit enough to start repaying her debt to Blood Services. “I wanted to donate blood as soon as I was able,” she says. There was a Red Cross blood drive in the Gladish Community Center in Pullman (the home of Washington State) and Megan signed up.
She admits to being a bit scared before a Red Cross phlebotomist began drawing blood. “It went so fast and people were so kind that I hardly noticed that they were drawing my blood,” she says. “And I knew that by donating blood I was helping people.” Megan thought she might have trouble finding a Red Cross blood donation site. “I didn’t realize how many drives were so close to me,” she says.
Megan has now donated blood twice and her husband William–also an academic at Washington State–has donated blood four times. Donors can give blood every 56 days and Megan says she and her husband expect to keep as often as they can.
The demand for blood is unremitting and certain to remain so, while the supply of blood is at historically low levels. COVID protocols have forced the cancellation of many blood drives, and even where drives can be held, the ranks of donors have thinned out considerably.
Given the tight supply of blood in the U.S., the Red Cross needs all the donors it can recruit. You may not have received a life-saving transfusion as Megan did, but you can be sure that the blood you donate will save someone’s life.
Finding a Red Cross blood drive in your locale is pretty simple. You can schedule an appointment to give blood with the American Red Cross by visiting redcrossblood.org, using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, asking Alexa, or calling 1-800-RED-CROSS.
The Blood Donor app is available for download at both the App Store and Google Play. Once you have downloaded it, you can use it to schedule and manage blood donation sessions. Megan has made use of the app and her verdict is, “The Red Cross blood app is so cool”.
If you are worried that having a COVID vaccination might keep you from donating blood, there is no cause for concern. The redcrossblood.org website explains, “You may still donate blood, platelets, or plasma [the three forms in which blood can be donated] after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Knowing the name of the manufacturer of the vaccine is important in determining your blood donation eligibility.”
To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine and blood donation, click on the Red Cross blood website.at redcrossblood.org. Become one of the 14 million Americans who save lives each year through donations of their blood.