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Blood Donation - The Gift of Life

By Nicole Finke, M.D.

In the three seconds it will take you to read this sentence, someone, somewhere will need a unit of blood to save their life.  Odds are that sooner or later that “someone” will be someone close to you; 1 out of every 4 people will need blood in their lifetime.

Each year 4.5 million Americans, over four times the population of the state of Montana, require a life saving transfusion.  Each day, 38,000 pints of blood-nearly 5000 gallons-are used in the United States alone.  One pint of donated blood can save three lives; however, of the 38% of the public that can donate blood, only 10% do.

When most people think of giving to charity, local blood banks are often left off the list.  Blood is literally the gift of life, and donating costs you nothing - only an hour of your time. 

Donating blood is safe.  You cannot get HIV or other infectious diseases from donating.  New, sterile, disposable equipment is used for each donor.

To donate, you must be in good health and at least 17 years of age.  Most blood banks have no upper age restrictions.  Minimum weight requirements may vary depending upon where you are donating, but 110 pounds is generally an accepted guideline.

You may donate whole blood once every 56 days, which allows plenty of time for your red cells to be replenished.  Platelet donors may donate more frequently-as often as every seven days and up to 24 times per year.

When you donate, your blood is separated into its three main components: red blood cells, platelets and plasma.  Blood transfusions are commonly used to replace blood loss from trauma such as car accidents.  Platelets are used for patients with low platelet counts such as cancer patients going through chemotherapy; and plasma helps patients with clotting disorders.

When asked why they don’t donate, most people say “I never thought about it” or “I’m too busy.”  Is that the answer you want to hear when it is the life of your father, mother, sister, brother, spouse, or child on the line?

One quick visit to MyHealthTestReminder.org, a free website provided by the College of American Pathologists, allows people to select the day they would like to schedule their blood donation.  On the chosen date, an e-mail will be sent reminding you to call the local blood donation center or hospital to schedule an appointment.  In Missoula, blood can be donated through the American Red Cross.  Contact them at (406) 543-6695 to schedule an appointment.

As a physician who specializes in pathology, I know that donating blood is a safe and simple procedure that takes so little, yet gives so much.  I manage the blood inventory at my hospital and know first-hand that blood shortages are a reality.  If just one percent more of us gave blood, all national shortages would disappear.  That’s why I’m urging healthy Americans to donate blood.  It’s easy.  It’s safe.  It can save someone’s life.

Nicole M. Finke, M.D. is the medical director of the laboratory at Community Medical Center.