At 18 years old, my friend was asked to donate blood by an American Red Cross student volunteer. Initially she said no, but finally made a deal with the volunteer that she would donate if he would do something that made her laugh.
The boy agreed and tried a few unsuccessful jokes, then pretended to trip and rolled down a big hill in front of the surrounding volunteers and donors. My friend decided his actions were silly enough and finally agreed to donate. What she discovered was that donating blood was not as difficult or painful as she imagined it would be.
The American Red Cross says that in order to keep up with the demand they must collect over 15,000 blood donations daily. Giving blood is an easy way to help a friend or stranger and even save a life, particularly in the summer when donations tail off and hospitals’ supplies run low.
Many teens think donating blood is scary or painful. I know the idea frightened me before I started having regular blood work done by my doctor, but giving blood is a simple process.
There is always a need for new donors. Most healthy people have no trouble meeting some basic requirements to give. Young people are often healthy and eligible candidates, so blood banks are especially grateful when young adults begin and become lifelong donors.
However, the Red Cross and other blood donation organizations are faced with a distinct problem every summer, when new donors aren’t being encouraged by school and workplace blood drives.
The summer months are time for vacation and adventure, which unfortunately means donating blood isn’t on the minds of regular donors. With schools closed and people vacationing out of town, the number of donors drops significantly. The blood drives that attract regular donors are usually held in the fall through spring, leaving the summer months with a blood shortage.
Fewer blood donations isn’t the only reason for increased need in the summer. With good weather and longer days, people are out and more active, leading to accidents and injuries, and an increased need for blood.
While there may be fewer organized blood drives in the summer, there are still ways to donate. You can locate donation sites near you on redcross.org and make an appointment or sometimes simply walk in.
Donors have to be 17 years of age to donate in New York State, or 16 with parental consent. You also need to be at least 4’10” and 110 pounds, but for donors under 18 there are some specific weight requirements according to your height.
Typically people are eligible to give blood five times a year. There is a waiting period if you have a recent piercing, tattoo, transplant, tuberculosis, or have traveled to a foreign country that puts you at risk for malaria or Leishmanaisis (disease caused by protozoan parasites). Certain medications and illnesses can also delay or prevent blood donations.
Be knowledgeable of your health history when going to donate blood. Potential donors are screened by a series of health-related questions, have their blood pressure measured and finger pricked to test your blood for infectious disease before being cleared to donate.
Your donation will be processed into several components (e.g., red blood cells, plasma, platelets and cryoprecipitate, a concentrated blood component made from plasma). A single blood donation may help up to three different people.
If you fall within certain parameters, you may be asked if you want to donate “double reds.” This process takes twice as many red blood cells as a regular donation. However, hospitals gain more than double the benefits from your donation, and there are some personal benefits too.
Because the double red donation replaces all the liquid portion of your blood (your plasma and platelets along with some saline) after removing the red cells, you may feel more hydrated after your donation.
According to the Red Cross, double red cell donations from Type O donors and donors with Rh-negative blood types play a very important role in maintaining blood supply levels.
For more eligibility information go to the nybloodcenter.org.
As a parent, you can set a good example for your children by donating. Perhaps you can donate together with your older teen and invite him or her to bring along a friend. Indulge yourselves with a tasty treat afterwards.
Everyone can help beat the summer blood shortage. The Red Cross provides more information on student blood donations, being a first time donor and more at redcross.org.
Shannan Costello is interning for Capital Region BOCES Communications Service for a second summer. She is a senior at Marist College where she is majoring in Communications with a concentration in Public Relations and a minor in Global Studies. She enjoys volunteering, fundraising and donating time, much more than donating blood. However, as an almost adult/college graduate, she has finally gotten past her fear of needles.