Health Take-Away: Giving blood saves lives, satisfies your soul

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As everyday Americans, particularly young adults, seem to become more preoccupied with themselves and less focused on others, certain acts of caring and social responsibility, such as donating blood, have declined. That reality has organizations like the American Red Cross reaching out to college-age and early-career Americans — the 20 to 34 demographic — in hopes of addressing a critical shortage of blood.

Every two seconds, someone needs blood, whether it's because of traumatic injury or, far more commonly, for cancer treatments and other life-saving interventions. Some 4.5 million Americans need a blood transfusion each year, about one in seven of every person entering a hospital, and yet the supply of blood on hand is consistently at least a full day short of the what health officials know is necessary to avoid a nationwide medical crisis.

Of the 38 percent of Americans who are eligible to donate blood, less than 10 percent actually do; only three percent donate blood yearly. Those numbers are steadily creeping down, particularly as the population ages. Younger Americans simply aren't following the tradition of their parents and grandparents, who, following World War II, began donating blood regularly, honoring it as an essentially civic responsibility. About 60 percent of blood donations today are from people over age 40, and of those, about three-quarters come from people over 50. So, it is that the Red Cross and others are running college campus campaigns and using social media and other tools to educate and inspire younger Americans, including high school juniors and seniors, about the public and personal rewards of donating blood.

Indeed, the reasons for donating blood are many:

- It saves millions of lives. One pint of blood — the most common form of donation — can save up to three lives. Donated blood is essential for surgeries, traumatic injuries, chronic illnesses and many treatments. Patients receiving cancer therapies, organ transplants and support for conditions like sickle cell anemia are among those who depend on life-saving transfusions. Blood is also critical to the survival of premature babies. Virtually all the blood needed in the U.S. for transfusions comes from volunteer donations. Whether a patient receives whole blood, red cells, platelets or plasma — the key components derived from blood - life-saving care begins with one person making that generous donation.

- It's quicker and easier than ever. The entire process — from the time you sign in to the time you leave — takes less than an hour. In fact, many of the mobile and on-site donation centers have the process closer to a half hour. After you sign in, you will be asked to answer a few health-history questions and be given a quick, general health check. You then will be comfortably seated or choose to lie down while a pint of blood is drawn. The actual donation only takes about 8 to 10 minutes. After donating, you can enjoy a snack and a drink for 10 to 15 minutes of recovery before resuming your day. Healthy adults who are at least 17 years old, and at least 110 pounds may donate blood every 56 days, or every two months.

- It's a personally rewarding experience. Studies have actually shown there are physical and emotional benefits of giving blood. On the emotional side, the satisfaction of knowing you've done something that literally will save other people's lives is immeasurably rewarding. Some donors report a feeling that's almost euphoric — not as much a physiological response to the drawing of blood as it is an emotional response to the act of personally helping others. At any age, young or old, giving the gift of life can be powerfully good for your heart and soul.

Christine Amuso is the Blood Donor Project liaison at Berkshire Medical Center.

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