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December 27, 2005 > Gift of life

Gift of life

by Sabrina Mahajan

If you ever wanted to give a gift that will make a monumental difference in somebody's life, consider donating blood- the greatest gift of all- the gift of life. Each donation may save as many as three lives. Red blood cells benefit patients with chronic anemia or acute blood loss; platelets benefit patients undergoing cancer therapy, recovering from organ and bone marrow transplants or with leukemia or aplastic anemia; and plasma benefits patients with severe liver disease, clotting deficiencies or serious burns.

Statistics shows that every 3.5 minutes, someone in Northern California requires a transfusion. It is estimated that 50 percent of Americans will need a transfusion at some point in their lives; however, only 0.2 percent to 0.3 percent of those eligible to give blood in Northern California make this life-saving donation. Nationally, the average is closer to 5 percent. Across the country and in the Bay Area, the American Red Cross and other blood banks often work with a two or three day supply of blood and blood products.

The ABO System
We all have microscopic antigens on the surface of our red blood cells; everyone is different. In fact, only identical twins possess the same antigens. When it comes to blood transfusion, there are two very important systems of antigens which need to be matched to avoid complications.

If you have blood group A then you have A antigens covering your red cells. Blood group B means you have B antigens, while group O has neither, and group AB has some of both.

This "ABO" system contains many small antibodies which are the body's natural defense against foreign antigens in plasma. There is also another antigen to be considered - the Rh antigen. Some people have it and some do not. If it is present, the blood is RhD positive and if not, RhD negative. So, for example, people in group A who have the Rh antigen will be designated A+ (or A positive) while others that do not are A- (or A negative). The same applies for groups B, AB and O.

The Birth of Red Cross:

In February of 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland, the Geneva Public Welfare Society set up a committee of five Swiss citizens to look into the ideas offered by Henri Dunant in his book "Un Souvenir de Solferino" - ideas dealing with protection of the sick and wounded during combat.

In October of that same year, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement based upon Dunant's ideas, was created. Clara Barton (1821-1912) was the first person to establish a lasting Red Cross Society in America. She successfully organized the American Association of the Red Cross in Washington, D.C., on May 21, 1881.

Many generous Americans nationwide have been donating blood especially since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Together with the Red Cross, these life-givers are ensuring that the blood is readily available whenever and wherever needed - for military, for other blood centers in the U.S. and for all 5,000 American hospitals.

From its beginning, the American Red Cross has formed a community of service, of generous, strong and decent people bound by beliefs beyond themselves. The honor, spirit and resources of these people comes forth with neighbors helping neighbors in need - during earthquakes, floods, fires, storms - and also for the deeply personal and often quiet disasters that require a gift of blood.

Blood Donation Guidelines:

To give blood for transfusion to another person, you must be healthy, at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds, and not have donated blood in the last eight weeks or 12 months after travel in an area where malaria is found, or three years after living in a country where malaria is found. People who have spent a long period of time in countries where "mad cow disease" is found, are not eligible to donate. This requirement is related to concerns about variant Creutzfeld Jacob Disease (vCJD). Each donor receives a brief examination during which temperature, pulse, blood pressure and blood count (hemoglobin) are measured.

While the blood supply is safer than ever, the Red Cross has continued to make important advances in testing and processing. Medical advances in screening donors and testing blood have dramatically improved blood safety. All blood collected is tested at National Testing Laboratories (NTLs), undergoing at least nine specific tests. Routine donations are tested for HIV and hepatitis C through nucleic acid testing (NAT), an investigational test that may reduce the "window period" or time between a virus infecting the blood and the body forming antibodies that can be detected.

The average adult has 10 pints of blood in his or her body. One unit of blood is roughly the equivalent of one pint. Since a pint is a pound, you lose a pound every time you donate blood. After donating blood, you replace these red blood cells within three to four weeks. It takes eight weeks to restore the iron lost after donating.

The Red Cross is always looking for volunteers to help at donation centers. On Wednesday, Jan. 4, they will hold an orientation meeting from 10 a.m. to noon, and on Tuesday, Jan.17 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at its Oakland (Claremont Avenue) office. For more information call (510) 594-5165.

Blood Drive:

Any company, community organization, place of worship or individual may contact their local community blood center to host a blood drive. "It is very important for people to donate during this season as it is very hard to find donors during the holidays, because patients don't take holidays," said Red Cross Communication Specialist Sara O'Brien.

Future Blood Drives:

American Red Cross Fremont-Newark Blood Center
Ongoing blood donations
Cedar Village Shopping Center
39227 Cedar Blvd., Newark

Hayward Community Blood Drive
Tuesday, Dec. 13
10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
St. Joachim's Church Hall
21250 Hesperian Boulevard, Hayward

Eden Medical Center Education Center
Wednesday, Dec. 21
10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
13855 East 14th St., San Leandro

Call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE or go to schedule an appointment at any of these facilities.

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