Why should you donate blood?
There is a massive and ongoing need for blood throughout the country. About
31,000 units of whole blood are needed in the US per day, and a patient will need a blood transfusion every two seconds. These transfusions are used in a number of life-saving procedures, such as
trauma treatment, open heart surgery, sickle cell disease treatment, cancer treatment, and organ transplants. Cancer patients use the most blood—leukemia patients, on average, require more than 20 platelet transfusions over a six-month period, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center uses more than 53,000 units of blood per year. There is also
no artificial substitute for blood, so hospitals rely solely on donors to provide their life-saving treatments. Unfortunately, however, there simply aren’t enough donors to keep up with this need. Only 37% of the US population is eligible to donate blood, and
only 3-4% of the population actually donates.
Another issue is that the blood supply constantly needs to be replenished. It’s not just that it’s being used up --
blood has an expiration date. Whole blood has a shelf life of 42 days, and platelets last for even less time, with a shelf life of five days. Plasma can be frozen and lasts for much longer, but even that has to be discarded after a year.
This crisis may sound daunting, but each donor has the ability to make a tremendous impact. Even
one pint of blood can save up to three lives, and if all eligible donors gave blood three times a year, shortages would be rare. So, if you’re eligible, you can do a lot to mitigate the blood crisis by becoming a repeat donor.
Why does youth donation matter?
Youth donation is crucial. Right now,
donors over age 40 account for almost 60% of the blood supply, and those over 50 account for about 45%. By contrast, donors aged 16-22 account for about 20% of the blood supply, and those in their 20s and 30s make up for the smallest proportion, contributing about 10% and 12%, respectively. This means that blood shortages will become a problem as people age out of the donor pool and aren’t replaced with young donors. While there is no national upper age limit to donating blood,
older people are more likely to have health problems that make them ineligible, to feel weak after donating, and to need transfusions themselves, and are less likely to want to go out right now because they’re more at risk for COVID-19. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the young generations, especially people in their 20s and 30s, step up to take their place as consistent blood donors and instill a culture of blood donation in the generation after them.
Why should I donate to my local center?
When you think of donating blood, you might also think of donation agencies that have a national reach, like the Red Cross. Due to their widespread efforts,
more than half of the United States blood supply comes from these national agencies.
While all efforts toward increasing the national blood supply are invaluable, it’s best practice to prioritize donating to regional blood banks. One reason for this is that blood sourced from local centers is much more affordable to hospitals. Some hospitals, like Boston Children’s Center, even have their own donor centers, which can save them a substantial amount of money. The National Blood Collection and Utilization Survey (NBCUS) found that
hospitals that collect blood on-site spend on average three quarters of the amount they would spend if they purchased the blood from suppliers. Some reasons behind this may include that off-site blood centers, but especially larger, more national organizations, may need to inflate blood costs in order to pay overhead. In addition, transportation and storage costs of blood are higher when blood is shipped from across the country, not across town. When considering all these factors, you can see that by donating locally, you could significantly cut the cost of a pint of blood, allowing hospitals to better allocate their resources to other aspects of patient care and cutting the cost of a patient’s medical bill, as well. To give you an idea of how cost-effective local blood donation is, one of our partners, ConnectLife Blood & Organ Donor Network, has saved hospitals in western New York
over $10 million since 2007.
Donating to a local blood center is also a surefire way to guarantee that your blood is delivered to a regional medical center, perhaps even more so if the center is unaffiliated with a national organization. This, overall, leads to more efficient care. By increasing the regional blood supply, you’re ensuring that there’s more blood at hand for hospitals and reducing the time it takes for blood to be delivered. In a medical emergency, this can mean the difference between life and death.
This is all important to keep in mind when you donate. Of course, if you have no other options, it's best to donate to national agencies than to none at all, but you can maximize your impact by donating locally. Find your local blood center