Give 'til It Helps
Where can you go to get a mini wellness check, a feeling that you’ve done something worthwhile, snacks (guilt-free!), and find that it doesn’t cost you anything but a little bit of your time?
A Community Blood Bank blood drive, that’s where.
Community Blood Bank, around since 1966, is a non-profit providing volunteer blood (the best kind) to patients in need. It is a member of America’s Blood Centers, which provides half of the country’s blood supply. Locally, Community Blood Bank began partnering with UPMC Susquehanna in 2017, and provides blood and blood products to a number of regional hospitals, including Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital in Wellsboro and Charles Cole Memorial Hospital in Coudersport.
In essence, the Community Blood Bank relies on local donors to meet the needs of local patients. Those patients could be your friends, neighbors, or a family member. They’re trauma victims, newborns and new mothers, cancer-fighters, folks with acute illnesses.
“This blood supply impacts my loved ones just as much as yours,” says Lora Cope, Community Blood Bank mobile drive coordinator and a familiar face at local drives.
Like water, there is no substitute for blood. Acting as the body’s transport system, blood consists of red cells, white cells, and platelets, all mixed up and owing along in a lovely liquid known as plasma. The red and white cells are manufactured in your bone marrow, most especially marrow in your vertebrae, ribs, hips, skull, and sternum. These cells carry oxygen, fight infection, and help control bleeding. The plasma schlepps the cells, water, and nutrients to the body’s tissues.
Across the country, the daily need for blood is 40,000 pints (not counting vampires or zombies). One estimate is that every two seconds someone in the United States needs blood. Women carry around about ten pints in their bodies; men have about twelve. Blood Type O- is the universal donor type. About 8 percent of the U.S. population is O-, and less than 10 percent of the eligible population, regardless of blood type, donates annually.
The (Sometimes Icky) History of Early Blood Donations
Way back in 1492, the attendants to Pope Innocent VIII, who was ailing at the time, thought if the Pope had some fresh blood, literally, he might perk up a bit. There wasn’t much known in those days about how blood circulated throughout the body, or about how much blood a donor could safely provide. Suffice it to say, neither the Pope nor his donors fared well.
Fast forward to 1665 and the first recorded successful transfusion—physician Richard Lower kept a dog alive via transfusion of blood from another dog. There were, in the ensuing years, a few somewhat dicey successes with animal to human transfusions. In 1795 an American physician conducted a human-to-human transfusion; then in 1818 James Blundell, a British obstetrician, managed a successful transfusion for a postpartum hemorrhage. He used the patient’s husband as the donor, and evidently luck was with them as they both reportedly survived (getting the wrong blood type can be fatal). In 1867 Joseph Lister, of Listerine fame, pioneered the use of antiseptics as a means to forestall infection. When, in 1900, the Austrian physician Karl Landsteiner discovered the first three human blood groups (he was subsequently awarded a Nobel for his work), the blood donating and blood receiving situations improved greatly.
The first blood bank was established in 1932 in a Leningrad hospital; the first one in the United States was in 1937 in Chicago’s Cook County Hospital.
What Are You Waiting For?
Giving blood these days is a piece of cake (and you might even get one when you’re done). When you show up at a Community Blood Bank blood drive—visit fourhearts.org or call (814) 456-4206 to find out where and when the next nearby drive will be—you’ll be asked to fill out paperwork which includes questions about your health, your recent international travels, and your, well, sexual activities. Nobody wants to be nosy, but everybody involved wants to make the best decisions about whether your blood is safe to use and whether you are healthy enough to give.
Once your paperwork is cleared, you see a nurse who takes your blood pressure, tests a couple of drops of blood from your finger (no pain) to determine your iron level, and asks you a few more questions. Some would-be donors get a little annoyed about the inquiries, and really annoyed if they’re told they can’t donate, but even something as minor as a sore throat or an infected cut may be a reason for deferment. Lora Cope explains that an infection which an otherwise healthy immune system can easily handle could be deadly for an infant or a cancer patient who received blood from that person.
“We’re conservative for your health and the health of the recipient,” Lora says.
Finally, you’re directed to the next available donating chair, where a nurse decides which vein looks the most promising. He or she will swab your arm with a disinfectant, you’ll get a tourniquet- sort-of-thing tied on, you’ll get a squishy ball to squeeze, then (it’s OK to turn your head here—I always do) a little pinch that lasts about a quarter of a second, the needle is in, the blood is flowing, and you’re on your way to helping save a life. Easy peasy.
Some folks fill up their pint bag in ten minutes or so; it takes others a bit longer. When you’re done, your nurse will ask you to remain seated for a few minutes, just to make sure you’re not queasy, and then you can mosey over to the snack area to enjoy a beverage and a goodie. You’ll be reminded to have extra fluids for the next day or so, to take it easy with the arm that had the poke, and you’re good to go.
If you donated in Wellsboro, your blood will be transported to Erie where it will be separated into platelets, whole blood, and plasma, then shipped back out to the various local hospitals Community Blood Bank serves. Whole blood can be stored for forty-two days, platelets for five days, and frozen plasma has a shelf life of one year. In fifty-six days, you are eligible to donate again. Please do.