By Sabrina Bates
MVP Regional News Editor
Winter weather during the holiday season made its impact on an already-strained blood supply across the region. As people rang in the new year, LIFELINE Blood Services and the American Red Cross issued appeals as supplies of donated blood reached critical levels. LIFELINE had several bloodmobile visits scheduled near the Christmas holiday, a time of year when more people have donated blood. The single-digit temperatures, combined with snow and ice blanketing Tennessee for several days, prompted the cancellation of the blood drives.
Along with the critical appeal for blood donations, LIFELINE issued an updated bloodmobile schedule for county visits throughout January.
This reporter, having donated at least a gallon of blood in my lifetime, took one afternoon and visited the LIFELINE team when the bloodmobile made a stop in my home city of Martin at West Tennessee Healthcare’s Volunteer Hospital.
For those who have never donated blood, I wanted to share some tips and talk about the process of blood donation in an effort to help spark some interest in giving. To those of you who do not like needles and pass out at the mere sight of them, donating blood may not be for you.
The first step is to find your nearest bloodmobile stop or LIFELINE offers two locations which are staffed full time to accept donations. There is a center in Dyersburg and another in Jackson. The calendar of bloodmobile visits each month is available in this newspaper, on its website and on LIFELINE’s website at lifelinebloodserv.org.
You must be at least 17 years old or 16 with written parental consent to donate blood. You need a photo ID as well and be prepared to bring it when you donate.
If you have a tattoo, piercings or receive acupuncture, you are eligible to donate blood as long as you received these in state-licensed and regulated businesses.
You cannot donate blood if you’re on an antibiotic or take any of the following medication: Accutane, blood thinners, anti-platelet medications, Propecia, Proscar or Tegison.
There are several myths floating around about being ineligible to donate blood if you have certain medical conditions. The following does make a donor ineligible to give blood:
- Pregnancy – wait six weeks after giving birth before donating;
- Hepatitis B or C – any positive tests for either in your lifetime;
- Ebola Virus – infection or disease;
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) – people who have had an injection of cadaveric pituitary human growth hormone (hGH) cannot donate. Human cadaveric pituitary-derived hGH was available in the U.S. from 1958 to 1985. Growth hormone received after 1985 is acceptable.
- HIV or AIDS – those with STDs such as syphilis or gonorrhea are eligible three months after finishing treatment;
- Sickle Cell Disease;
- Leukemia or Lymphoma.
If you have traveled outside of the country in the last three years, eligibility will be determined based on where you’ve been on your visits.
To prepare for your visit, be sure to drink plenty of fluids in advance. Eat something, especially something rich in iron. Get plenty of rest the night before. If you smoke, try not to smoke a cigarette at least 30 minutes to an hour before donating. Smoking causes your heart rate and blood pressure to increase and they will check those during the simple screening process.
Did I mention the screening process is simple? Bring your photo ID. A team member will enter your name, telephone and address into their system. Then you move to the next station where your blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and iron levels are checked. Checking your hemoglobin, or iron levels, does not even require a finger prick anymore. A medical device is placed around your thumb, so try to make sure your hands are warmed up a bit before your brief screening.
LIFELINE gives its donors a free T-shirt. This time I had three style options and the shirts were long-sleeved. After an all-clear medical screening, I made my way to the bloodmobile – which is a long bus with seating that allows you to stretch your legs during the donation process.
You will be asked to complete a brief medical questionnaire, which requests information to determine eligibility. The information is similar to what was mentioned above to determine your eligibility. The questionnaire can even be filled out on LIFELINE’s website in advance of your visit.
With the medical screening and questionnaire wrapped up, I made my way to a donor seat and offered my left arm. My veins are difficult to find, but LIFELINE staff have always found one to pull from when I donate blood. Be prepared for someone to wrap a tight band around the top of your arm above the elbow as they prep you for the needle, which is inserted into the bend of your arm. Wear something that is loose-fitting on your arms. It often takes about 10-15 minutes for them to get a full donation from me. After, they wrap a bandage around the elbow that is recommended to stay on for the next few hours.
It is recommended donors take advantage of the sodas, juices and sweet snacks offered after their blood draw. I sit for a few minutes sipping on my juice and try to eat a Little Debbie snack while making small talk with the staff on the bus. They give me a card with my next eligible donation date, eight weeks from that day, and I am on my way.
I tend to be thirstier after giving blood and drink a lot of water to help replenish. I am a bit more fatigued after I donate and watch my activities, making sure I keep fluids up and eat a good meal. After a good night’s sleep, I feel pretty good the next day with little impact to my body except maybe a sore spot on my arm from the blood draw.
Donating blood isn’t for everyone, but if you can give, I encourage you to do so. It is rewarding and takes about 45 minutes out of your day. I talk a lot, so the process takes me a bit longer. I have received cards in the mail from LIFELINE thanking me for my donation and sometimes it tells me how many people received my blood in life-saving situations.
I was blown away one day when I received a pin and a certificate naming me a one-gallon blood donor. I am working on donating my second gallon with LIFELINE, one pint of blood at a time. Feel free to share your stories of your experience donating blood, receiving donated blood or any questions you may have about the process by emailing me at [email protected].