Spare Parts

I talked a little bit last post about my new found understanding of the importance of organ donation.

I want to talk a little bit about some other ways that we can all help out and save lives, while we’re still alive.

units of blood

Each blood donation takes one unit, or pint, of blood along with a small amount in tubes for infectious disease screening and blood group typing.

A healthy adult human has 10-12 pints of blood, which is actually more than you need. You can donate one pint every 6-8 weeks to someone who needs it desperately to survive. It’s easy and nearly painless, so it’s pretty hard to argue against blood donation. There are size requirements- it varies by blood bank but typically they want you to be over 110lbs for a whole blood donation, which I think most of us are. The phlebotomist will perform a physical and check your hemoglobin level with a fingerstick to make sure you have enough blood to spare, then they will draw your blood. The whole process takes about an hour and is highly gratifying.

I actually donated blood today, and the sign on the wall said the most commonly given reason for not giving blood was “I wasn’t asked.” Well, I’m asking you right now- transfusion medicine saves lives but we need your help too. A single motor vehicle accident patient may require 100 units of red cells. Many cancer patients require weekly transfusions of platelets to prevent catastrophic bleeding. The American blood supply is tenuous at best and emergencies such as mass shootings and natural disasters can exhaust it at a moment’s notice. We need everyone to chip in and help!

If you want to give blood, you can look up what blood center covers your area at this handy search from the American Association of Blood Banking. If you live in a rural area you may be covered by a blood bank relatively far away so set the box to 100 miles and then ask your blood center if they do mobile drives (mine does!). If you can’t find a center through this search, your area may be covered by the American Red Cross. If you live outside the US or are having trouble finding a drive near you, ask your doctor or go to the laboratory at the nearest hospital and ask the receptionist who supplies their blood bank.

If you live within 150 miles of Spokane, WA, including North Idaho and Eastern Washington, your blood center is Inland Northwest Blood Center.

In Western Washington including Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett, your blood center is Puget Sound Blood Center.

The entire state of Alaska is covered by the Blood Bank of Alaska, though supplies to Southeast Alaska typically come from Puget Sound Blood Center due to proximity. Blood drives throughout Alaska, including southeast, are usually held by the Blood Bank of Alaska.

The Portland metro area of Oregon and Western Montana are covered by the American Red Cross.

bone marrow diagram

Bone marrow contains the stem cells that differentiate into all the cellular components of your blood.

Now that you know about the importance of blood donation, you might be wondering what else you can do to help. Please consider joining the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry. All you have to do is swab your cheek and you are entered into a database of people willing to donate either bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells for patients who need them, often suffering from leukemia or immune diseases who will die without your donation. Many patients die waiting for transplants, so while donation of bone marrow does involve a surgical procedure you have a unique opportunity to give of yourself to save a life. About 1 in every 500 people who signs up goes on to donate, though that number is higher for members of certain racial groups- African Americans are especially encouraged to sign up due to a shortage of donors of that ethnicity. Bone marrow donation is treated like organ donation and you have an opportunity to exchange contact info with your recipient and even meet them. The registry pays all fees associated with screening, the procedure, and even travel expenses for donors. There’s really no good reason to not go and sign up right now, is there?

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