By donating blood, either at home or on the road, you may be helping to save another person’s life.
By John J. Watson, F155488
Traveling around the country in a motorhome is an exhilarating experience. But my wife, Ida, and I have found another way to bring satisfaction into our lives, while at the same time possibly saving another person’s life. We regularly donate blood. It takes very little time, doesn’t hurt, and we know we’re contributing to a very important cause. You, too, can experience the joy of helping someone else by donating blood.
Have you ever seen a cancer patient who is on chemotherapy before and after receiving a platelet transfusion? If so, you will never forget the startling transformation. In an hour a patient can go from being irritable and in great discomfort to being relaxed and enjoying life. Have you, or someone dear to you, had an operation and needed a transfusion? We certainly don’t know when we may be the ones in need of blood.
Your donation is important
According to the American Red Cross, last year less than one in 20 eligible healthy adults in the United States donated blood, and only a small portion of those donated four or more times during the year. That means only 5 percent of the population is supporting 100 percent of our blood needs. Consider, too, the fact that 38 percent of all blood products go to patients who are 65 or older. Since many FMCA members fit that age profile, it behooves us to help our fellow motorhomers by donating.
Who can donate?
Most FMCA members can give blood. The requirements are that you must be healthy, weigh at least 110 pounds, and be at least 17 years old “” usually there is no ceiling on age. Eligible donors can give blood once every 56 days, up to six times a year. The requirements in Canada are similar, although there is an upper age limit of 71 years of age for regular donors and 61 years of age for first-time donors.
Some people think that a prior health condition will prevent them from donating. Often this is not the case. For instance, people with high blood pressure or diabetes that is controlled by medication usually can donate. Flu shots will not disqualify you. In some cases, people with a history of cancer that has been cured can donate. Check with the blood collection staff to determine whether your medical status is acceptable.
Where to donate
At our home in North Carolina, we visit the local blood center. While traveling we call the Red Cross toll-free “” (800) 448-3543 “” to find the location of a nearby blood center or the schedule of a bloodmobile that may be in our area. You also can call America’s Blood Centers, a network of nonprofit, independent community blood centers, at (888) 256-6388. Blood supplies in Canada are handled by Canadian Blood Services (CBS) in all provinces except Quebec, where it is managed by Hema-Quebec. For donation locations in Canada, call CBS at (888) 236-6283; or Hema-Quebec at (888) 666-4362.
The American Red Cross provides blood to approximately half of the hospitals in the United States and America’s Blood Centers supplies nearly another half, with independent blood centers covering the balance. If you can’t find a Red Cross center near your camping location, the organization either will direct you to a local blood center or suggest that you call the closest hospital to find the site of a blood center near you.
Collection center procedures vary, so inquire to learn whether you must schedule an appointment or can simply walk in. Often, the advantage of setting an appointment is that you may be taken before walk-in donors.
Some campgrounds schedule bloodmobile visits. The bloodmobile is a motorhome-like vehicle furnished with blood-collecting equipment and is capable of taking donations from several people at the same time. Churches, schools, and other organizations also may offer their facilities for blood drives. Often there are regularly scheduled donor hours at a nearby central location as well.
What to expect when you donate
When you enter the donor center, you will be asked to read an information sheet that outlines medical conditions that may disqualify you from donating blood, such as AIDS and other infectious diseases, and possible exposure to other risks. You then complete a short questionnaire that covers your health history as it relates to your blood. This is the first quality-control step taken to ensure that all donated blood is suitable for medical use and that the recipient will not be put at risk.
After completing the paperwork, you meet with a staff member who confidentially reviews your questionnaire. Then you are given a brief checkup that includes taking your pulse, blood pressure, and temperature. A drop of blood also is taken and immediately tested to be certain that you are not anemic. If your medical history is in order and your medical condition meets the standards, you are ready to donate.
You relax in a comfortable reclining chair while the technician or nurse swabs your arm to cleanse it. A sterile needle is inserted “” you hardly notice it “” and your blood flows from your arm through a tube and into a plastic bag. The needle, plastic bag, and tubing are all new and sterilized; nothing that comes in contact with your blood has been used before. This prevents any possibility of contamination.
One unit “” approximately a pint “” of blood is drawn. The procedure takes only 10 to 15 minutes. The amount of blood donated might sound like a lot, but your body has plenty to spare. Adults usually have between 10 to 12 pints of blood circulating through their bodies, so one pint won’t be missed. Fluid lost from donating is replenished in 24 hours, and the red blood cells removed are generally replaced in a few weeks.
After you’re finished donating, you go to the canteen for a soda or a cup of coffee, maybe a light snack, and conversation. Several years ago while we were donating blood in Reedsport, Oregon, another donor mentioned a nearby field where we might be able to view elk. When we arrived at the field, we saw a herd of 74 elk, all lined up like the Radio City Rockettes. It was a memorable sight that we might have missed if we hadn’t given blood that afternoon and chatted with a local resident. Before leaving the canteen you will be told to drink extra fluids and avoid heavy lifting for the next few hours.
What happens to your donation?
After you leave the donor center, your blood is refrigerated, and sent to a laboratory where it is first screened using sophisticated tests to check for infectious diseases. These tests are conducted to ensure a safe blood supply.
After testing, the blood is processed. Why? It turns out that patients generally don’t need whole blood, so most units are broken down to their components: red blood cells, plasma, and platelets. In this way, your one unit of blood can help several patients. The testing and processing take place within a few hours of the donation. Plasma and platelets must be used within hours or days of being donated; red blood cells can be frozen and stored for several years.
As you head back to your campsite after giving blood, you know you have helped someone. From experience, I can tell you it’s a good feeling. Donating blood takes only an hour or so of your day, and you can donate every couple of months. So, roll up your sleeve and donate. You never know when you or a loved one may need this gift of life.