Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Do you give blood?
Five years ago, I marched into a meeting and declared, "We need to do a big story on the looming blood shortage crisis." My conviction was met with unmoved facial expressions. My young producer self was very confused. After all, this story was important. An executive producer said, "Chris, there is always a blood shortage in this country." I was humbled, but determined to find out more and to get a story on the air.
Truth is, there is always a shortage of blood in this country. It's no surprise given that 4.5 million Americans need lifesaving blood transfusions every year according to America's Blood Centers. They also say that 3 gallons of blood supports the nation's blood needs for just 1 minute. Blood bank experts say there often is a surge in giving blood after an emergency such as the September 11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina. The problem is that much of the oxygen-carrying red blood cells have a shelf life of just 42 days. Cancer-treating platelets can be kept for only seven days. Blood-clotting plasma can be kept frozen for up to a year. Bottom line is that people need to donate blood often and regularly in order to meet the need for fresh blood.
A new study out this summer in the journal Transfusion finds that the pool of donors is shrinking. It's actually 60 percent smaller than experts had previously thought. There are a whole host of reasons why fewer people can potentially donate. Dr. Jay Menitove of the American Association of Blood Banks says Generation Xers and younger people seem less into blood donation than baby boomers, who are getting older, and in some cases too sick to donate. There also are tight restrictions on people who've spent significant amounts of time in Europe, especially in the 1980s and early to mid 1990s.
But youth can provide the greatest boost for the pool of donors. The American Red Cross has sweetened the deal by raffling off Apple iPod Nanos and $1,000 scholarships to teenagers who donate. Potential blood donors have been recruited on popular networking sites including myspace.com and facebook.com. Many states that had higher age limits than the minimum, including Washington, Kansas and Georgia, have now dropped the donor age to 16. Also, many states are now allowing people who have recently been tattooed to donate blood as long as they were inked in a state-licensed and approved tattoo parlor. Previously, freshly tattooed people would have been deferred from donating blood.
It's an effort to get people hooked early. Don Doddridge of America's Blood Centers says that if you get someone to donate three times then you get a lifetime donor.
Do you donate blood? Why do you do it? How can you get more people to donate blood?
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