Health Care

Donating Blood Safely

March is "Red Cross Month." This organization does many things - from international disaster relief to connecting US military personnel with their family members in emergencies. But the Red Cross is probably best known for its "blood drives."

If you're thinking about giving or donating blood to the Red Cross or any other organization, you should know how to do it safely.

Filling the Need

According to the Red Cross:

  • Someone in the US needs blood every two seconds
  • Over 38,000 blood donations are needed every day
  • One pint of blood (that's one donation) can help save up to three lives

Giving blood is a good cause. The Red Cross and others take many steps to help make sure it's safe, too. For instance:

  • A new, sterile needle is used for each and every donation, and then the needle is thrown away
  • You're given a mini-physical before blood is taken, This includes taking your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse and checking your hemoglobin to make sure it's safe for you to give blood
  • All donated blood is tested for diseases before it's made available to hospitals and other health care facilities. The blood is tested for West Nile virus (WNV), HIV, hepatitis B and C, syphilis, Chagas disease, and Human T-Lymphotropic virus (HTLV-I/II)

You're Job

On top of the safety measures taken by the Red Cross or other donation center, there are several things you need to do to protect yourself and the people who may need your blood someday. Here's a list of things you should do:

  • Don't try to give blood if you're not feeling well, even if you only have the "sniffles." It may be a waste of your time, as well as the center's. Remember, you'll get a mini-physical before you donate, and if you're running a temperature you'll be turned away
  • When you show up to donate, you'll have to register and give some medical information about yourself. Be honest. Any information you give will be kept confidential
  • Don't give blood if you're taking certain medications, like antibiotics or blood-thinners
  • If you're a regular donor, keep track of your donations, and make sure the Red Cross or donation center has accurate records, too. You're only allowed to give blood once every 56 days
  • Eat a good, healthy meal before you donate, preferably a few hours beforehand. You want to eat something with complex carbohydrates but low in fat. Wholegrain breads, oat meal, and rice are good examples. Also, drink plenty of water before you donate
  • If the sight of blood or needles makes you feel queasy, look the other way when the nurse or technician begins to draw your blood. You don't want to faint or have a panic-attack
  • Relax for a few minutes after you give blood. You'll be given some time to lie down, so take advantage of it. Don't try to sit-up quickly, and don't try to walk until you feel comfortable. Remember, you just gave blood, so you're probably going to feel a bit light-headed
  • Eat a snack while you're relaxing afterwards. The Red Cross and most other donation centers will give you snack to help you re-energize, usually some cookies and orange juice. Or, plan ahead and bring a bottle of juice or water and a granola bar or crackers with you
  • Be careful driving after you donate. If possible, arrange for someone to drive you to and from the donation center
  • Don't drink alcohol for several hours after you donate. You have less blood in your system, so alcohol may affect you more quickly

You're giving blood to help other people. If you follow these steps, you'll make the whole experience a lot more rewarding and enjoyable!

It doesn't take much time or effort to give blood. The whole process takes about an hour, only about 20 minutes of it involves the actual donation of blood. And there are Red Cross and other donation centers all around your neighborhood.

Who knows? The life you save may be yours or someone you love.

Questions For Your Attorney

  • Can I be sued if someone gets a disease or infection from blood I donated?
  • Does a donation center have to tell me if it finds something wrong with my blood, like an infection or disease?
  • Can my child give blood without my permission?
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