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January 23, 2008 > Volunteer Blood Donor Month:

Volunteer Blood Donor Month:

Give the Gift that Keeps on Living

According to the American Red Cross, more than 38,000 blood donations are needed in hospitals every day around the country. Unfortunately, January often is a time when there is a shortage of blood donations due to holiday travel, bad weather, and illnesses such as colds and the flu. That's why the Red Cross has designated January as Volunteer Blood Donor Month to urge people who have never given blood to become first-time donors and encourage those who have given blood in the past to become regular donors.

"There is always a need for blood in the emergency room," says Dr. David Orenberg, medical director of the Emergency Department at Washington Hospital. "Most of the time, we have the time to check people's blood type and provide matching blood, but there have been times when we required large amounts of blood and have had to use Type O negative, which is considered the 'universal donor' blood type that can be given to anyone in an emergency."

Various news media reports have noted that the Bay Area currently is experiencing a critical blood shortage, particularly of Type O negative and positive.

"If you know that you or someone in your family who has your blood type is going to be undergoing a scheduled surgery, you can make a 'designated' blood donation and have the blood stored for future use," Dr. Orenberg notes. "But you can't donate blood to a family member or friend in an emergency because it takes too long to conduct the proper blood tests to ensure safety."

Before the early 1900s, attempts at blood transfusions often resulted in shock and death. Then the Austrian physician and Nobel Prize-winning researcher Dr. Karl Landsteiner classified the blood of humans into the now-familiar Types A, B, AB and O.

"The work of Dr. Landsteiner, who came to the United States to escape the rise of Hitler's Nazi Germany, enabled us to make matching blood transfusions, saving millions of lives over the years," says Dr. John Iocco, medical director of the Laboratory and Blood Bank at Washington Hospital.

To be eligible to donate blood, a person must:
* Be over age 17.
* Weigh at least 110 pounds.
* Be in good health.
* Not have donated blood within the past eight weeks (56 days).


Donating blood is a simple process. A trained professional called a "phlebotomist" will conduct a private interview to take your medical history and conduct a mini-physical exam to check your blood pressure, pulse rate, iron level and temperature.

The phlebotomist will then cleanse your arm and carefully insert a needle. Other than feeling a slight pinch when the needle is inserted, you should feel no pain and can sit back and relax for about 10 minutes while the blood is collected. Afterward, you can sit and rest while enjoying refreshments such as juice and cookies.

"If you are nervous about needles, the phlebotomist can apply a topical anesthetic and use a fine needle," says Dr. Iocco. "You may experience a bit of bruising later at the site of the injection, but it's not very likely. The phlebotomists at the America Red Cross, which supplies blood to Washington Hospital, are all top-notch professionals."

Both Dr. Orenberg and Dr. Iocco have been blood donors.

"I started donating blood over 30 years ago, and I generally donate every eight weeks," Dr. Iocco says. "It's a rewarding feeling to donate blood. If you join the 'team' founded by Dr. Landsteiner and start giving blood at an early age and donate every eight weeks, you have the potential to help save hundreds of lives. In fact, two patients can benefit from one donation - an anemic patient gets the red blood cells that carry oxygen, and a bleeding patient gets the plasma that contains clotting proteins. You definitely gain more than you give."

To find out more about American Red Cross Blood drives in the Fremont-Newark area, call 1-800-GIVELIFE or visit their web site at www.RedCross.org. The Red Cross blood-drawing station closest to Washington Hospital is located at 39227 Cedar Blvd. in Newark, just off Mowry Avenue, 1-800-669-4348.

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