The Best Gift of the Season: A Gift of Self

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he today that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother.

Henry V (Act 4, scene 3), Shakespeare.

Good morning! We’re entering the holiday season, and it’s an exciting time for all. I love seeing the ethnic and cultural diversity as we all celebrate our favorite holidays with family and friends. I myself look forward to the holiday season. It’s a festive time and a season of giving and sharing. It’s a favorite time of year to share traditions and create new ones. However, at a time when stores have Christmas candy on the shelves, holiday lights up and holiday music playing on the day after Halloween, I feel a bit rushed and want to slow down and find better ways to celebrate and enjoy the season. Over the past few years I have been making a special effort to become more environmentally conscious; remembering my reusable bags at stores, purchasing more reusable products, and reusing, recycling, and upcycling whenever I can. I belong to a community ‘buy nothing’ group and am warmed by the generosity of strangers to others in the community. It’s wonderful to give from our abundance and to receive wish list items from neighbors without having to exchange money. And it’s great for the environment, too. Used items are being put to use by others, and not into landfills. People in the community have asked for or gifted furniture, clothing, tools, toys and many other goods and services. I have gifted no longer needed clothing, household items, excess fabric from my fabric stash, and donated my time to participate in a career fair at a local high school. I have been given a car set for my grandchildren when they visit, toys, and someone even loaned me a bike trailer so we could take my granddaughter out for a bike ride. The generosity makes it feel like the holiday season all year round.

So, you may be asking, “where is this blog going?” I saw a memo from Red Cross this week that there is a critical need for blood and platelets and thought that giving to our community with the gift of blood would be a wonderful way to make this holiday season even better! It’s one of the most generous gifts we can give, and costs nothing. Every 2 seconds in the US, someone needs a blood product. That’s about 36,000 units of red blood cells, 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma needed every day. 21 million blood products are transfused every year.1 That’s a lot of blood. And, these blood products cannot be manufactured, so must come from volunteer donors.

In the US, we need to collect about 13,000 units a day to meet demand. Approximately 14 million units of whole blood are collected each year from roughly 7 million donors.1 The blood is processed into components and used in the treatment of surgical, obstetric, oncology, and other patients. One unit of whole blood can be made into up to 3 components and used to help up to 3 patients. Yet, even with all these donations we still cannot keep up with demand. Weather, holidays, illness and travel can all affect blood donations. Shortages are not just apparent during the winter holiday season. This past summer, the Red Cross announced a critical blood shortage around the July 4th holiday. Compared to other weeks, there were 17,000 fewer blood donations during the week of July 4th. As of July 9, the Red Cross had less than a three-day supply of most blood types and less than a two-day supply of Type O blood. 2 During the summer, and particularly during the holiday week, people are busy with other activities or traveling. In the winter, busy schedules, holiday travel, winter weather and seasonal illnesses contribute to fewer blood and platelet donations. Severe weather can also cause the cancellation of blood drives which greatly impact the blood supply.

Some people donate blood because they see this critical need and hear the calls for blood. Others donate because a classmate or friend asked them to. Some people feel it’s their civic duty. For some, it just makes them feel good to help another person. And, others donate for the cookies and tee shirt. Yet, for all donors, it is a form of volunteerism and giving to the community. But, did you know that, other than the benefits from helping others, there are benefits to the donor, as well? Helping others can improve our emotional and physical health. It can help reduce stress, improve emotional well-being and help people feel a sense of belonging. A study conducted in Sweden concluded that regular blood donors enjoy better than average health.Blood donors had an overall mortality 30% lower and a cancer incidence 4% lower than the control population.3 Donating blood may help reduce high iron stores, a risk factor for heart attack. In addition, there have been several studies over the past few years, exploring the hypothesis that regular blood donations may help in the management of hypertension and high cholesterol.

Another interesting benefit of blood donation is being able to contribute to science and research. For example, there is currently a study being conducted on donor blood to test an investigational nucleic acid test for Babesia microti. Babesia microti is responsible for most transfusion-transmitted babesiosis cases in the United States, but there is no licensed test for screening for B. microti in donated blood. Participation in this study can help obtain FDA approval for a screening test. By giving your consent to use your blood sample, there is no additional blood taken and no further time commitment, but you can help protect the public health by supporting the development of a new blood safety test.

How can we, as individuals, help? About 38% of the population is eligible to donate blood, but less than 10% of the population actually donates. To be eligible to donate, you should be in good general health and feeling well. You must be at least 17 years old in most states (16 years old with parental consent in some states) but there is no age limit to donation. Adult doors must weigh 110 lbs, but there are additional height and weight requirements for donors 18 years old and younger. There have also been some recent changes to blood donor requirements. I will not be able list all of them here, but some of them don’t change a deferral, only the reasoning behind the deferral. One of the most prominent changes is, as of 2016, the indefinite deferral for men who have had sex with men, has been changed to a 12 month deferral since the last sexual contact with another man . Also changed is the minimum hemoglobin for male donors. This has been raised from 12.5g/dl to 13.0 g/dl. Until this time, the cutoff was the same for both males and females. Males with a Hgb below 13.0 g/dl are considered anemic and are no longer eligible to donate blood. On the other hand, the criteria for females to be mildly anemic is a Hgb below 12.0 g/dl, so females between 12.0 g/dl and 12.5 g/dl, though not considered anemic, are still not eligible to donate. The minimum hemoglobin for females has not changed and remains 12.5 g/dl. To review other eligibility requirements, visit https://www.redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/how-to-donate/common-concerns/first-time-donors.html

So, in this busy season, we often find ourselves with little time to get our own “to do” lists done, yet alone volunteer our time for others. But most of us would welcome an hour to reduce stress and improve our emotional well-being. Please consider a gift of self this season. It takes about an hour of your time, you get to sit and relax with your feet up, to feel good about yourself, and you’ll even get a snack!

Happy Holidays!

References

  1. redcrossblood.org
  2. https://news.azpm.org/p/news-splash/2019/7/19/155196-fourth-of-july-donation-slowdown-leads-to-blood-shortage/
  3. Edgre, G et al. Improving health profile of blood donors as a consequence of transfusion safety efforts. Transfusion. 2007 Nov;47(11):2017-24.
  4. Kamhieh-Milz S, et al.Regular blood donation may help in the management of hypertension: an observational study on 292 blood donors. Transfusion. 2016 Mar;56(3):637-44. doi: 10.1111/trf.13428. Epub 2015 Dec 8.

-Becky Socha, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM BB CM graduated from Merrimack College in N. Andover, Massachusetts with a BS in Medical Technology and completed her MS in Clinical Laboratory Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. She has worked as a Medical Technologist for over 30 years. She’s worked in all areas of the clinical laboratory, but has a special interest in Hematology and Blood Banking. When she’s not busy being a mad scientist, she can be found outside riding her bicycle.

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