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Giving Blood Can Be the Ultimate Gift

Blood donations are needed all year, but they're most critical during the holidays.
WebMD Magazine - Feature

What is a special present that could come only from you? You may not have thought of this: The greatest gift you can give another human is, literally, life. Donating blood even once can help save the lives of three people -- whether they're newborns needing heart surgery, adults badly injured in car crashes, or people of any age suffering from cancer.

If you already donate, you probably know how important it is. If you don't donate, you're hardly alone. While 60% of Americans are eligible to give blood, only 5% of them do -- even though someone in America needs a blood transfusion every two seconds. "At any given time, we only have a three-day supply of blood in this country. It's vitally important that people give," says Anne Eder, MD, executive medical officer of the American Red Cross.

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Queasy? Busy? Unsure where to go? Read on to learn how the blood donor system works -- and how you can participate.

Who Gives?

Studies show that the primary motivation for the 8 million Americans who donate blood every year is altruism, while the primary hurdle for those who don't is inconvenience. Yet most communities offer places to give blood, and the whole procedure takes only an hour.

Those who have never donated cite the risk of AIDS as their primary concern. But "people cannot get a disease from giving blood," Eder says. "The staff use a new, sterile needle on each donor and immediately dispose of it after they draw the blood."

Am I Eligible?

Guidelines differ from state to state, but in general you are eligible if you are 17 and older, weigh more than 110 pounds, and don't have AIDS or other transmissible diseases. Some conditions may also make you temporarily ineligible, including pregnancy, low blood iron, and high or low blood pressureproblems.

Blood donations are needed all year, but they're most critical during holidays. "That's when we see the most trauma," Eder says, "and when donors are unavailable, due to vacation schedules, illness, or inclement weather."

How to Give Blood

  • Contact (1-800-GIVE-LIFE) to find a blood donation center in your community.
  • Make an appointment.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat a meal before your appointment.
  • Arrive on time, wearing sleeves that can be raised.
  • Give your health history and take the mini physical (which includes your pulse, blood pressure, and blood count).
  • Donate blood (usually one pint).
  • Rest in the "canteen" and have a complimentary snack.
  • Take it easy for the rest of the day. Drink lots of fluids, avoid strenuous activity, and feel good about having helped others, knowing your body will replace the blood you gave in just a few weeks.

Published November 2006.

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