Week 14: 60 Minutes and Some Cookies Will Save a Life: The NY Blood Center
Count with me … one… two… Every two seconds someone in the United States needs blood for a transfusion. Cancer patients, surgery patients, accident victims, burn victims, sick newborns, mothers who experience complications during birth, AIDS and sickle cell anemia patients, etc…. It probably took you about 14 seconds to read to this point. 7 people in the U.S. needed a blood transfusion in that time.
For the donor, donating blood is a simple 4-step process (detailed below) which takes anywhere from 30 minutes to just over an hour (actual blood collection takes only 10-12 minutes). For the recipient, that time and your donation saves lives.
Think about this… more than 38,000 blood donations are needed every day to keep up with demand but only about 38% of the U.S. population is eligible to give blood. Of those eligible, only an average of 3 out of every 100 actually donate. This means there is always a need for donations.
My husband and I give blood a few times a year through the NY Blood Center, who runs drives throughout NJ and NY (they run one at a local church in our town several times a year so we typically go there when we donate). Through various discussions with the wonderful (and always entertaining) NY Blood Center employees and volunteers, we’ve learned a lot. For example, I was surprised to learn that a single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood and that patients could be forced to pass up lifesaving organ transplants if compatible blood is not available to support the operation.
On this particular Saturday I arrived at the drive bright and early. The team from NY Blood Center was playing a 1980’s flashback station on Pandora and I walked into the room as the volunteers were singing and dancing to Asia’s “The Heat of the Moment” (followed by “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straights – um…. hello High School cafeteria flashbacks…). The process to give blood is easy:
- REGISTRATION– fill out a donor registration form and answer a series of screening questions regarding medications, travel, medical history, etc. You need to show a photo ID.
- HEALTH HISTORY – one of the technicians will check your blood pressure, pulse and temperature. They’ll take a drop of blood from your finger to measure hemacrit (iron) levels. They’ll ask you a few additional questions. As long as you meet all donor requirements (which they explain to you), you move on to the donor area.
- DONATION– a specially trained and super-friendly technician will guide you to what looks like a glorified lawn lounge chair and draw your blood. These people are experts so you really don’t feel the needle. You’ll be directed to squeeze a stress ball once every 10 seconds for a few minutes (to stimulate flow of blood). By the time you settle in and relax you’ll be finished donating blood – before you’ve even read a chapter in whatever book you brought to read. How much blood do they take? The average adult has about 10 pints of blood in his/her body and roughly one pint is given during a donation.
- REFRESHMENTS – after donating blood you move to a snack table where you relax and snack on cookies and chips and drink fruit juices and water. After about 10 minutes you’re set to leave and pick up your day where you left off.
That’s all there is to it!
On this Saturday, as Hall and Oats finished singing “I Can’t Go For That,” I was done with my donation and on the way to eating Lorna Doone cookies and drinking apple juice. After about 10 minutes of snacking and chatting with the other donors and the volunteers, I left to take on the rest of my Saturday activities. On my way out I passed posters of stories of recipients and was humbled to remember how lucky I am to be healthy. I felt grateful to be able to do a tiny part to help someone else in their time of crisis. The whole process took me 60 minutes. It was painless and the volunteers and NY Blood Center employees actually made it a fun and uplifting experience. In that same 60 minutes, 30 people in the U.S. were not as healthy or fortunate and needed life-saving transfusions. Did I feel that hour was worth it? Yep, every second.
I’d like to share a few tips based on my experiences that may be helpful for you. First, make sure you increase your water intake the day before so you’re super-hydrated when you go to donate. It will avoid any potential headaches. Second, if your blood pressure runs low like mine, have a salty snack before bed the night before you donate. Third, don’t drink coffee or tea directly before going to give blood. It messes with your insulin levels. One of the two times I got dizzy while giving blood was when I drank a large tea (light and sweet of course) from Dunkin Donuts 30 minutes prior to going to give blood. Fourth and final tip – Eat a healthy breakfast the day you give blood. The second time I became dizzy was when I did not eat breakfast before donating. Getting dizzy while donating is no fun, but you recover quickly and the experience is pretty avoidable. Just think, with 60 minutes and some cookies you can save a life!
To find out more about the New York Blood Center and to find locations where you can donate, check out: http://nybloodcenter.org/