CATES: National Blood Donor Month

I have had a pretty cool nursing career. I’ve gotten to do many things most people never even dream of as a nurse. But of all the exciting stuff I have done, travel, research, speaking at national conferences, to me the best thing is the most basic thing that nurses do, taking care of patients.

To quote one of my favorite nursing authorities, Jean Watson, I have had the joy and privilege of taking care of others when they are at their most vulnerable. Jean Watson’s words were meant for nursing, but I would like to think she also went straight to the heart of what makes humans, not just nurses, special. Most people care about what happens to others, especially when others are vulnerable. The problem is sometimes it’s hard to know how to show that caring in more than words.

One of the best ways that many people can do to help those that are vulnerable is to donate blood. January is National Blood Donor month. It was developed for two reasons, first to recognize the special people who donate blood and blood products on a regular basis to help others and second to encourage people to donate, especially after the holidays.

According to the American Red Cross, in the U.S., over 13,000 donations are needed every day to make sure we have enough blood and blood products on hand to care for those who need blood. After the holidays, however, blood donations across the U.S. drop dramatically. It’s likely due to several reasons, busy schedules and catching up after the holidays, winter illness, and winter weather — which means fewer blood drives and difficult travel for those that donate at blood banks.

The American Red Cross estimates that about 38 percent of the U.S. population can donate blood, but less than 10 percent donate. Donation criteria are based largely on the type of blood product donated. Whole blood can only be donated every 56 days or 6-7 times a year; people donating must be in good health and feeling well.

In most states donors must be at least 16 years of age, and donors must weigh at least 110 pounds. There is no top end age limit. You are never “too old” to donate if you meet criteria for weight and health.

Another type of donation is called “Power Red”— this is when the person donates mostly red blood cells and less of the other types of blood products. That donation type is less frequent, only every 112 days, or 3 times a year. Again, the person must be in good health and feeling well.

Male power donors must be at least 17 in most states, be at least 5-foot-1 and weigh 130 pounds, female donors must be at least 19 years old in most states, at least 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weigh at least 150 pounds.

I am sure that you are wondering why the differences between that and whole blood and why the differences between men and women. It has to do with the amount of red blood cells people can safely spare, and because of menses, women have less ability to absorb a big loss of red blood cells, so they need to basically have a bigger blood volume (hence the taller and more weight) to have the same level of safety.

Platelet donation, another cell in blood, one that helps the blood clot, can be quite frequent, as much as every 7 days or up to 24 times a year. Good health and feeling well also is required for platelet donation, most states require platelet donors to be at least 17, and the donor must weigh at least 110 pounds.

The last type of blood product is AB Elite plasma donation. This is to donate plasma (the liquid part of blood) for the rarest of blood types, type AB. Donations can happen every 28 days, the donor must be in good health and feeling week, they must be 17 years old and weigh 110 pounds, but most importantly they must have AB type blood.

Here in the Permian Basin, our blood bank is through an organization called Vitalant. Having worked with this organization for many years, I can tell you they do a wonderful job making sure the people of West Texas have blood when it is needed. But they cannot do their vital work without donors. Please consider reaching out to Vitalant and donating blood or blood products this month and continue to donate regularly throughout the year. You can find out much more about donating locally on the Vitalant website at