Imagine giving birth to a first child. It should be the happiest day of one’s life. Now, imagine an unforeseen complication that causes the mother to lose so much blood she needs a 400-unit transfusion.
While some may say, “This will never happen to me,” each year 5 million Americans need a blood transfusion.
“We need people to understand the importance of this,” said Michael Waite, director of marketing and community relations for the Blood Bank of Delmarva. “Modern science has not been able to replicate human blood. There is no substitute for it. If people do not donate it, people could die.
“There are so many different uses for blood. There are people who are, say, having surgeries that need blood that’s lost during their surgery. There may be car accidents, some kind of trauma incident, where somebody starts to bleed and they need that blood replenished to survive.
“This really is a life-saving donation,” Waite emphasized.
“We have cancer patients that need platelets because they have a clotting factor to them, and in some forms of chemotherapy it thins the blood so much it’s dangerous for that patient if they don’t have platelets in their system. We have people who donate platelets specifically for those cancer patients.”
“There’s plasma, used for burn victims and such. You can go down and down and down the line — there are so many uses for blood.”
Currently, the Blood Bank of Delmarva, which serves 18 facilities in the Delmarva region, is experiencing a shortage of O+ blood.
“Occasionally this occurs. We try as best we can to avoid them. But when you get a series of traumas like we’ve had recently, it does put a strain on our supply,” said Waite. “When there’s more than normal usage, that’s when we have to call out to the public to let them know that we are in pretty dire need of their help.”
A whole-blood donation takes approximately an hour from start to finish, with the actual donation portion lasting approximately 10 minutes.
“[Donors] have to go through a series of questions that are FDA-mandated. Then, if they pass those questions, they are tested for their hemoglobin, temperature and blood pressure. If their blood pressure is within a normal range and their hemoglobin level is high enough, they’re eligible to donate,” he explained.
“They get in the chair. The phlebotomist will prep the individual. They’ll ask the donor if they’re comfortable with the left or right arm, find a vein, and then, at that point, do the stick — 10 to 12 minutes later, we’ve got a full unit.”
Then the donor will be bandaged and sent to the canteen for 15 minutes to enjoy juice and cookies before leaving.
Once the blood donation is collected, it goes through 14 different tests, including those for HIV, Zika, and Hepatitis A, B and C, to make sure it’s safe to be given to a patient in need.
Individuals may also give platelets or double red-cell donations, which do take additional time at a donation site.
“We would love to convert a whole-blood donor,” said Waite, noting that platelets are critically needed for cancer and leukemia patients and only have a shelf life of five days. “It’s more time-consuming. Platelet donation can go about two to two and a half hours. If they have the time, we would love for them to come in and donate.”
Individuals may donate whole blood every 56 days, double red blood cells every 112 days and platelets every 14 days.
While the Blood Bank has five donor sites, their mobile blood bank travels across Delmarva, to schools, fire halls, churches and other community sites.
Anyone who is between the ages of 17 and 79 may donate; however, the vast majority of donors are older.
“I don’t know if the younger portion of our population understands the criticality of this until maybe they had somebody in their family who needed a transfusion or who almost died of an accident and received blood,” said Waite.
“We have babies that get transfusions. One of the biggest uses of blood when things go wrong is a woman in the middle of childbirth. They can lose dozens of pints of blood. We’ve seen some of the violence that’s happened here as of late, in places all over the country. Things can happen anywhere. We don’t know what’s going to happen 5 minutes from now.”
Currently, the Blood Bank is hosting its 15th Annual Summer Blood Challenge, and all those who donate between May 15 and Sept. 23 are eligible to win a number of prizes.
“They will have the opportunity to win some really cool prizes, including a week’s stay at a luxury resort in Dewey,” he said. “The great majority of people who donate blood are incentivized to help other people. They do it because it’s a good thing and it helps save lives.”
Waite said donating blood takes such little effort and time but makes a big impact in someone’s health and, ultimately, life.
“If you feel at all that you want to do something for your community, here’s an opportunity for you to do something that’s not going to cost you anything, except some time,” he said. “When you make a blood donation, it’s going to somebody.”
For more information about the Blood Bank of Delmarva or to schedule a life-saving donation, visit www.delmarvablood.org or call (302) 737-8405.