How to Become a Blood Donor
Advice from one donor who has given over 100 gallons of blood!
Have you ever donated blood or considered it? Whether you’ve never batted an eye at a needle, or you’re determined to overcome your fears in order to help out your community, you’ve come to the right place. Being a blood donor is a simple way to volunteer and give back to your community.
We met with two experts to learn the ins and outs of blood donation. From preparing to give blood to how it’s used and where it goes, their first-hand perspectives will help you better understand exactly what to expect when donating — and just how important it is.
You may ask yourself how someone might get a passion for donating blood — especially if the idea makes you feel a little squeamish — but sometimes it can be as simple as a small incentive to create a spark.
It started with the desire to earn a free watch. But twenty-some years and 101 gallons of donated blood later, Michael Cape, a Data Warehouse Engineer at Main Street America (part of the American Family Insurance group), got so much more.
Michael’s story began in 1998, where he learned from a friend that, if he donated 10 gallons of blood, he’d receive a free watch. Being an avid triathlete, this piqued his interest.
Michael said, “I was scratching my head thinking it would take a lifetime to donate that much blood. That’s when I was educated about the platelet and plasma donations.”
To understand how Michael was able to donate an astounding 101 gallons of blood in twenty-three years, it’s important to know the difference between whole blood donations versus platelet and plasma donations.
What is whole blood donation?
Many people are used to the idea of donating whole blood, where you donate about a pint of blood in ten minutes. After donating, blood banks and laboratories will take that pint of blood and break it down into its different components: red blood cells, platelets and plasma.
Michael said, “After you donate, they’ll combine those separated components with donations from other people until they get one unit, which is a pint. When you donate whole blood, you can think of it as a third of a donation because it will take a couple more people to make up a full pint of either red cells, platelets or plasma.”
What is platelet and plasma donation?
When donating platelets or plasma, your blood is also taken out of you, but instead of separating the components after, a machine separates them as you’re donating.
“I get hooked up to a machine and sit for about two hours,” Michael explained. “As the blood is drawn out of me, the machine separates the blood into the platelet and plasma components and pumps red blood cells back into me.”
He goes on to say that after a normal whole blood donation, you must wait eight weeks until you can donate again since red blood cells take longer to replenish. However, since plasma and platelets get replenished quicker, you can donate every two weeks.
The Red Cross offers a helpful Blood Donation Process FAQ resource that can answer some of your questions if you’re hesitant about donating. Check it out to help learn the truth about donating, ease some of your concerns and hopefully get out there and donate!
Are there ways to help other than donating blood?
Of course! Whether it’s a needle phobia or another reason keeping you from donating, there are other ways you can give your time and help with blood donations. Justin said, “Ninety percent of the Red Cross workforce is made up of volunteers. If you can’t donate or if it’s not right for you, you can help set up a blood drive or volunteer to still help make an impact.”
The Red Cross work is driven by volunteers — of course through blood donors — but also the support of the American public. Monetary donations are also vital to the work that the Red Cross does. “On average 90 cents of every dollar spent is invested on providing care and comfort for people in need,” Justin explained. “Almost all of our money comes from the generosity of large organizations such as American Family or from the public. The help we’re able to bring people, whether it’s a disaster zone, the need for blood or supporting military families, companies like American Family or just the general public are the ones that enable us to do this humanitarian work in Wisconsin and around the country.”
Want to get involved apart from donating blood? Check out volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross here.
Ready to Make a Difference?
Donating 101 gallons of blood is quite a feat, and we consider Michael a true hero for his altruism. We asked him what his end goal is and he gave us an exact number: 128 gallons — which is 1,024 pints. Why that exact amount?
“Since I’m part of the IT department, 1,024 is the number of kilobytes in a megabyte. So my goal is to get one megabyte of blood.” Now that’s commitment!
You don’t have to set your sights on such an ambitious goal like Michael. Whether it’s giving your time to give blood every once in a while, help organize a blood drive or even volunteering in a completely different way, you can truly make a difference.
Head to our social impact resources for more inspiring ways to dream big and make a real, positive difference in your community and beyond.
This article is for informational purposes only and includes information widely available through different sources.