Thursday, December 21, 2017

'Tis the Season for Giving ...Blood

As I write this, Christmas is just around the corner and everyone is buying gifts to give to family and friends. Despite the stress, we generally feel better after giving a gift, and the more appreciated the gift is the better we feel.

How about giving a gift to a stranger, someone you'll likely never see or meet? Giving of yourself when there is little to no chance of the favor being reciprocated is true charity, and charity is one of the virtues honored by most religious beliefs.

There is even a way to be charitable while increasing your odds of surviving a major disaster: donating blood. Think of the medical blood donor system as a form of insurance, where people put a little into the system to make sure they can be taken care of if the need ever arises. The more people who donate, the more likely it is that the system will be there if you need it.

Blood donors provide the resource needed by accident victims, cancer patients, and those going through major surgery. I think those all fall somewhere between “crisis” and “disaster” depending on the severity, so anything you can do to better your chances of survival counts as prepping in my book.

Transfusing blood, which means taking blood from one person and injecting it into another, has been around for a few centuries but it wasn't until 1901 that a doctor worked out the first three blood types (A, B, and O) based on experiments on blood from his staff and patients. This made transfusions safer, since not all types are compatible and the results were sometimes fatal. World War 1 brought the increased use of refrigeration and anti-coagulating chemicals to extend the shelf-life of donated blood. Organized blood drives started in the 1920's and 1930's, and WW2 saw the use of blood and blood products as life-saving tools in military hospitals. Today we're shipping freeze-dried plasma (FDP) to our troops to give them a shelf-stable emergency supply that will store for “a long time” and
can be reconstituted in the field with bundled sterile water. Our military is currently getting their stocks from a company in France while waiting for the FDA to approve a supplier in the USA.

Blood Components
Normal blood is about 50% plasma, 45% red blood cells (RBC), and 5% platelets and white blood cells (WBC). Donated blood may be kept “whole” or it may be separated into the different parts for different uses.
  • Blood Plasma contains coagulation agents and is useful in restoring lost blood volume while helping stop bleeding. Plasma is normally frozen and stored for up to a year; a small portion of the plasma known as “cryo” will separate out during freezing, and since this portion contains potent coagulation agents it is often split off and stored by itself.
  • Red Blood Cells contain the hemoglobin that transports oxygen from our lungs to individual cells. RBCs are where you may find a specific protein that further classifies the blood into RH positive or negative. Most people have this protein and their blood type will have a “+” after the letter; if it is missing, their blood type will have a “-” after the letter. RBCs are stored in a refrigerator for up to 42 days.
  • Platelets are clotting agents that seal wounds in blood vessels. Platelets are not type-specific and can come from several different donors if need be. Platelets are stored at room temperature in a machine that keeps them mixed, but not clotting together, for up to 5 days.
  • White Blood Cells are infection fighters, but can also cause inflammation or allergic reactions after a transfusion if they attack the new host's blood, so they are often removed from donated blood.

The main way to donate blood in the USA is through the RedCross. I've heard stories about how crappy they are in their disaster response, but they lead the field in keeping our hospitals supplied with blood; like any other group, they do some things well and other things not so well. The link above will take you to the site that deals with blood donations, not their general begging site.

Donating blood is not hard to do. The paperwork and questions will take longer than the actual blood draw, because nobody wants to let infected blood get into the system. Most healthy people can donate blood, as long as they:
  • Are at least 17 years old,
  • Weigh at least 110 pounds,
  • Haven't donated blood in the last 56 days,
  • Are in good health and feeling good,
  • Haven't gotten a tattoo in an unregulated shop the last year.
There are a whole list of things that will disqualify you, which the screener will go over before they take your blood. After they have your blood they will do tests for a few specific things, and if they find anything out of the ordinary they will contact you. It normally takes about 30 minutes for the questions and 10 minutes for the blood draw.

Due to when and where I was stationed while in the Army, the Red Cross will not take my blood. I used to donate as often as I could, especially while I was in the military (we were our own blood supply), but because I lived and ate in a country that had an outbreak of mad cow disease and that particular disease has a habit of staying dormant in a body for decades, they won't let me give blood. It's frustrating, but I understand their reasoning: as much as I would hate to get a disease from a blood transfusion, I would hate it even more to be the one that caused someone else to get one.

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