So, donating every two week for two years, Michael reached that ten-gallon mark and earned his coveted watch. He reflected, “The medical director at my blood asked what my plans were after I earned the watch. I told her I was going to stop.”
Well, he didn’t stop.
He said, “I’ve gone almost every two weeks since 1998. There’s a 24-donation limit within a calendar year — I think I’ve hit that once or twice.”
Over the years, Michael has made over 500 donations, totaling over 100 gallons of blood. Incredible!
Where Does the Blood Donation Go?
Michael donates at a local blood alliance, One Blood, in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. He shared that he likes donating here because he knows his blood is being used locally.
The American Red Cross works with hospital and medical partners to distribute blood where it’s needed most. So, sometimes donations go to a hospital up the street and other times it may end up helping someone in need on the other side of the country. While the need for blood is constant, there may be downturns in collections — as is sometimes seen during the busy and wintry holiday season — or spikes in need, like from a surge in trauma or surgeries.
We chatted with Justin Kern, Regional Communications Director at the Red Cross for the state of Wisconsin, who helped us take a closer look at blood donations through the Red Cross organization.
“The Red Cross supplies 40% of the nation’s blood,” Justin said. “We first look to our local partners and our hospitals to help satisfy that need. If that need changes, we shift around the blood since we are a national organization.”
Curious to see where your donation goes? When you sign up for the Red Cross app, you not only can easily schedule appointments to donate, but also track where your donation went!
Justin said, “I’ve seen my donations go everywhere from Green Bay and Milwaukee to San Juan, Puerto Rico. It’s a universal need, but wherever your donation goes, it will be helping someone who needs it after experiencing anything from a car crash to a cancer treatment to a sickle cell pain crisis.”
Michael shared a story about a good friend of his who had leukemia, saying, “We used to speculate that he had some of my blood in him because he had to take a transfusion every time he got a treatment. We considered ourselves blood brothers.”
If you’re looking for somewhere to donate, check out RedCrossBlood.com — just type in your ZIP code and they’ll tell you about upcoming blood drives and where to find appointments near you. Or, like Michael, find out if you have a blood bank in your community that donates locally.
Justin emphasized, “There is a remarkable — and constant — need for blood. Whether it’s donating every two months or once a year, you are making a difference.”
The important thing to remember? No matter where you donate or where it goes, your donation makes an impact.
How Are Blood Donations Used?
So you donated — but how will that donation be used? In lots of different ways!
Justin gave some examples, saying, “In short, if someone has an elective surgery, they’ll need blood. Our hospital partners always need a supply on hand for something like car accidents or major mass casualty incidents. There’s a high blood need for people going through cancer treatments. And donations are often used for some of the blood-based chronic illnesses, like sickle cell.”
Remember, blood can be separated into red cells, platelets and plasma, and each are used for various medical conditions or situations. For instance, patients receiving a blood transfusion for something like anemia or blood loss receive red blood cells to improve the amount of oxygen in the body. Someone suffering from an illness or going through chemotherapy may receive platelets to boost their health, while plasma transfusions are for patients with liver failure, severe infections or serious burns.
So when someone says a blood donation can help save someone’s life — they mean it! And you have the opportunity to give back to someone that can help, or even save, a life. How incredible is that?
Want to learn more about how blood donations are used? From cancer patients to trauma patients, here are some heartfelt stories from people who’ve received blood donations.
Are There Any Requirements for Giving Blood?
Like most types of volunteering, there are requirements for donating — all of which are to ensure the safety of the donors, as well as those who receive the blood.
Many of the requirements for donating blood depend on the type, i.e., giving whole blood versus platelets or plasma. Generally speaking, requirements include:
- Age — Typically, you must be 17 years of age or older but this varies by state
- Weight — Must weigh over 110 pounds
- Be in good health and feeling well — If you don’t feel well, go ahead and cancel (you can always reschedule for when you’re better!)
- Have not donated blood in the last 56 days — Remember this timeframe is much shorter if you’re donating platelets or plasma
There are instances you might be deferred from donating. For example, if you have low iron, have traveled outside the Unites States or are taking certain medications, a waiting period may be required both for your safety and for the safety of the donation recipients.
Michael shared that in the year 2000 he was deferred for one year, “They tested for something called ALT — which is a marker for hepatitis, but it’s also caused by things like physical exertion and Tylenol. I had been sick a couple days before and taken a bit of Tylenol, so my test came up as being unacceptable.”
A year later he was back at it and hasn’t stopped since. This is a good example of, even if you were deferred, you can still be eligible to donate in the future!
How to Prepare for Donating Blood
“Make sure you use the bathroom before sitting down!” Michael laughed. In his case, donating platelets and/or plasma takes around two hours. Thankfully, if you’re donating whole blood, you’ll only be sitting for about 10 – 20 minutes.
“I’ve been told that donating whole blood is good for the donor because it forces your body to create new blood cells. You get some newer fresher blood. But my challenge is for everyone to try platelet donations once, and if you do, make sure you’re prepared.”
Over time, Michael developed a process for donating, saying, “For platelets, drinking water beforehand isn’t as big of a deal because they pump anti-coagulant into me, which is about a liter of fluid. And when donating plasma, you get cold from the inside out. So I wear long pants and take a blanket with me. My feet get swollen because I’m sitting there and not moving, so I untie my shoes.”
Donating platelets and plasma takes significantly longer than the more common whole blood donation, so if you’re going this route, don’t be shy about getting comfortable.
Here are some more common ways to prepare for giving blood:
- Eat iron-rich foods, like poultry, red meat or spinach (if your iron is too low you may be asked to reschedule)
- Avoid fatty foods
- Drink an extra 16 oz of water or other liquid before your appointment
- Wear a short-sleeve shirt or have sleeves that are easy to roll up above your elbows
- Bring something to help pass the time, like music or a book (especially for those two-hour donations!)
Book? Check. Blanket? Check. Fueled up with the right food and water? Check. Now let’s walk through your first appointment!
What can you expect once you get to your appointment?
If you’re donating whole blood with the Red Cross, you’ll sign in, show identification and read some required information. Then, you’ll either answer some questions online (which can be done beforehand through the app) or in a private interview, and you’ll receive a quick health check for your pulse, blood pressure and hemoglobin.
Your actual donation only takes about 8 – 10 minutes, where you can sit back and relax while they take a pint of blood. And once your donation is complete, you can enjoy some snacks and a drink while you wait for 10 – 15 minutes before heading out. The whole process typically takes about one hour.