Giving blood: important in a crisis, important all year long

by Scott Howe on April 26, 2013

Following the tragedy in Boston on Marathon Monday, thousands of people asked, “what can I do to help?” For many, the answer was “give blood.”

In fact, the desire to donate in days after the marathon was so great that appointments at the Boston Children’s Blood Donor Center booked up quickly, and many eager donors were asked to schedule future appointments.

The generosity was truly remarkable and the donations very much needed. But it also spurred curiosity. More than once I heard someone ask, “How does the blood you donate go on to help others?”

The answer is a little more complex than you might expect,. For starters, donated blood can be used all at once, called whole blood, or separated into components which can go on to help people with different needs.

Platelets are cells within the blood that help it clot to stop bleeding, which can be separated from the blood during the donation process. There are many patients with low platelet counts who are at high risk of bleeding—especially during medical procedures like a bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy or surgery. Donated platelets can help make treatment safer for them. A special machine is used for platelet donation, and the process can take between 60 and 90 minutes.. Platelets last for only 5 days outside the body, so they are a vital part of our blood inventory for Boston Children’s patients.

As much as 100 pints of blood may be needed by a single car accident victim

Red blood cells can be separated from the whole blood as well, and are very useful in aiding patients with certain kinds of cancer, as well as people who have suffered traumatic accidents, burns or those undergoing surgery. Many people donate Apheresis  red cells made up of two units of only red cells.

Here’s a quick look at why donated blood is so important:

  • According to the  Red Cross, someone needs blood in the US every two seconds, and more than 44,000 blood donations are needed every day.
  • The Red Cross also reports that:
    • As much as 100 pints of blood may be needed by a single car accident victim.
    • Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy need blood, sometimes every day.
  • More than 80,000 people in the US have sickle cell disease and may require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lives.
  • Blood can only come from volunteer donors – it cannot be manufactured, like medications are.

Here’s a few FAQs about donating blood at Boston Children’s:

  • You can donate whole blood every 56 days, Apheresis red cells every 112 days and platelets up to 24 times a year.
  • Through a short 30-minute whole blood donation visit, you can help as many as four children.
  • You must be at least 17 years old, in good health and weigh at least 110 pounds to donate blood. In Massachusetts, 16 year olds may donate blood but are required to have a signed permission slip from a parent or legal guardian prior to donating.
  • Before coming to the Blood Donor Center, eat a meal and make sure you are well hydrated. Also, bring along a photo ID.

A crisis like the Marathon Day bombings puts blood donation in the spotlight, but blood is always needed at hospitals and clinics. Every day of the year, accident victims, people receiving treatment for cancer, those undergoing surgery and many, many others depend on donated blood for effective treatments and recovery.

The Boston Children’s Hospital Blood Donor Center recently moved to a new location at 333 Longwood Avenue in Boston. Learn more about the Blood Donor Center and find answers to frequently asked questions about giving blood. If you’d like to make an appointment to donate, call the center at 617-355-6677 or book an appointment online. You can also connect with the Blood Donor Center on Facebook!

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