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January 11, 2011 > Make Blood Donation Your Resolution

Make Blood Donation Your Resolution

Regular Donations Can Help Prevent a Critical Blood Shortage

Presents from the holiday season may have been unwrapped and the gift cards spent, but it's always a good time to give one of the most important gifts that doesn't require shopping-blood donation.

In order to avoid a dangerous blood shortage, organizations like the American Red Cross rely upon a steady supply of voluntary blood donors, and the month of January, which is recognized as National Blood Donor Month, is an excellent time to ring in 2011 with a life-saving donation.

David Orenberg, M.D., medical director of Washington Hospital's Emergency Department, points out that while most severe trauma cases in the local area will go to Highland Hospital or Eden Medical Center, patients can and do arrive in Washington's ER in critical need of a blood transfusion.

"During my last shift in the Emergency Department, I saw two patients with blood counts down about four quarts who required transfusions on the spot within fifteen minutes of their arrivals," he relates. "There will always be emergent transfusions for medical reasons, and we obviously have a continuing need in the ER for blood, whether for trauma patients or those with medical conditions requiring transfusions."

Back during his medical school days, Dr. Orenberg says medical students would often be paid for their blood donation, but he imagines that many donors these days enjoy a more intangible reward.

"I do think people feel good about giving blood, like they're doing something for humanity," he says. "It makes them feel like a part of the medical system."

Often, though, particularly during the holidays, blood donations can dip while many regular donors are traveling. For this reason, people new to the donation process are always in demand.

In the case of individuals contemplating a first-time blood donation, Dr. Orenberg says there's nothing to fear, adding that the American Red Cross staff members at local blood drives are always compassionate, seasoned professionals.

"If some people have fears about blood donation, they should know that it's a kind and warm atmosphere," he notes. "They have a comfortable chair to sit in while donating, and at the end you get something to drink and a snack," he says. "It's a non-fearful environment. And for a little sting, you can give something back."

Members of the community with a family member or friend who will be coming to the hospital for elective surgery may donate blood in advance, but Dr. Orenberg emphasizes that in order to have this blood available in time for the surgery, donors must arrange to give blood at least a week or two in advance. This process, called autologous donation, is directed to a certain patient, but if an autologous donation is not used, it is discarded, unless released for use by other patients. (All donations are fully tested, according to the American Red Cross.)

But in the case of emergencies, like accidents or illnesses that require surgery, Dr. Orenberg says regular blood donation is the best way to avoid a critical blood shortage.

According to the American Red Cross, to donate blood you must:
* Be in good health
* Be at least 17 years old
* Weigh at least 110 pounds
* Pass physical and health history reviews prior to donating

While the American Red Cross stipulates no upper age limit on the ability to donate, conditions that require a temporary deferral include: pregnancy, travel to certain parts of the world, inoculations, some health conditions and certain medications. Eligibility requirements may also vary for some states and blood centers, and medical professionals always determine final eligibility at the time of donation.

Regulations in the United States allow people to donate whole blood once every 56 days, according to the American Red Cross, but the waiting period between donations can be different for other blood components, such as platelets or red blood cells.

Blood Donation Resources

To find local blood donation drives, the American Red Cross advises calling 1-800-GIVE LIFE or scheduling online at In the case of emergency circumstances, local news reports can direct community members to the best place to donate.

For more information about services and programs at your local community hospital, visit

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