Blood Donations Are Needed, Here Are Some Tips for First-Timers

Since the start of the pandemic, donations have decreased 10%

Photo by Jana Birchum

The American Red Cross, which supplies 40% of the nation’s blood supply, faces its largest blood shortage in more than a decade. Blood donations decreased 10% nationally since March 2020, according to the ARC website. The organization cites fewer blood drives, weather-related closures, and staff shortages.

Red blood cells can be stored for up to 42 days and platelets can only be stored for up to five days. With the decrease in donations and the limited shelf life of donations, there has been less than a one-day supply of critical blood types in recent weeks where there’s usually a three- to five-day supply. It’s a precarious position to be in that risks lives.

If you’ve donated before, you know what to do. Sign up for an appointment, grab your mask, and after a relatively painless process you’ve helped your neighbors. If you haven’t donated before We Are Blood (the ominously named local organization in charge of the Central Texas blood supply) can help you through the process. Here are a few details to help see if you’re eligible. This is not an exhaustive list, just the more common requirements for donors.

Who Can Donate?

•16- and 17-year-olds must weigh at least 125 pounds (16-year-olds must have a guardian’s signature). 18-year-olds and older must weigh at least 110 pounds. •You may donate if you have diabetes.
•You may donate 12 months after having a heart attack.
•Those who are pregnant must wait 6 weeks after giving birth to donate.
•If you have a pacemaker or implanted defibrillator, you are not eligible to donate.
•If you received the smallpox vaccine, wait eight weeks before donating.
•If you received the hepatitis vaccine, wait two weeks before donating.
•For donor safety, individuals with hemophilia or other related clotting factor deficiencies can not donate.
If you’ve spent more than 3 months in the UK between 1980 and 1996, or more than 5 years in Europe from 1980 to the present you are ineligible to donate.
•In April 2020, We Are Blood, announced they will allow donors to petition for a shorter deferral period for certain activities, usually taking the deferral period from 12 months to 3 months. After petitioning We Are Blood, you must wait three months after participating in the following activities: sexual contact of a man who had sex with another man or “of a woman who had sex with a man who had sex with another man within the previous 3 months,”; transfusion of blood or components; tattoo; ear/body piercing; completion of treatment for syphilis or gonorrhea; non-prescription injection drug use; travel to a malarial endemic area.
•Having your COVID-19 vaccine or booster has no bearing on your eligibility to donate.

Pro Tips:

•Don’t forget your ID!
•Drink extra water the day before and the days after you donate.
•Wear a shirt with short sleeves or that can easily be rolled up well above the elbow.
•Eat a meal high in iron before donating.
•Don’t hesitate to ask your phlebotomist any questions you have before, during, or after your donation.
•Bring headphones or a book if you think you’ll want a distraction.
•Whole blood donations take about 45 minutes from walking in the door to walking out.

Type O negative blood is considered “universal” because it’s used for transfusions for people with any blood type. It is always in high demand, so people with O negative blood are always encouraged to donate.

By donating blood, you can help cancer patients, those with severe and more life-threatening injuries and conditions, Sickle Cell patients, burn victims, etc. Local organizations are available to answer your questions prior to donations.

Where Can You Donate?

We Are Blood: You can schedule an appointment at a location near you.
American Red Cross: You can find a blood drive near you. Please note that ARC does not provide blood to Central Texas hospitals or medical centers.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove the implication that We Are Blood is the main donation organization in Texas. There are certainly others in the state]

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