Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I'm a Six-Gallon Donor

"That poor soul."

That's what I think when Bonfils Blood Center sends me a letter telling me where my donated blood went. One pint of my blood--one of several from many donors--went to a woman who had a childbirth that would have killed her in times past. Bonfils invited her and all the donors to a party to meet each other. A few dozen donors divided by eight pints per gallon means she lost half or more of her blood. A friend and employee of Bonfils told me about another patient--just a kid--who needed over 100 units of blood.

Today, I'm feeling a bit puffed up because I got my six-gallon donor pin. (Not too puffed up, though--my father has donated over 20 gallons and a man named Ned Habich has donated 60.) I went to the bloodmobile parked in front of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Denver this afternoon. I answered a questionnaire and Bonfils tested my iron, pulse and blood pressure. At 118 pounds and with an iron level of 42 (yay!), I barely met their thresholds for weight and hematocrit. Nevertheless, they put me on a bed and scrubbed my inside elbow, and I squeezed a foam heart as Paula, the phlebotomist, put in the needle. Of course it hurt, but what is a poke in the arm compared to a difficult childbirth or a major tragedy--the life and death struggles that transfusions are there to help?

Kind, generous people will stand in a long line to donate blood when there's a mass tragedy. But it's important to know that blood has to be transported and put through many tests before it can go in a patient. People who are bleeding to death can't wait that long--they get blood that's ready and waiting. When the major crisis is over, extra blood from an outpouring of donations can go to waste. There are always people who need blood, but you'll rarely see them on the news.

In five minutes, the bag was full. Paula took some samples from the tube, put a purple bandage on my arm, and I went in the Marriott for refreshments. On my way back to the office, I saw several big, strong, fit looking men, and wondered why not even one of them had a bandaged arm--the sign of having donated blood.

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