In 2011 I was charged with the role to lead a school-wide blood drive with the New York Blood Center at the high school where I teach English. I had never donated blood before. I was admittedly frightened, not so much by the needles, but more-so by the whole process: I didn’t know what to expect, and that’s what scared me. Suddenly, I was placed in a leadership role, where students were counting on me, for something I had never done before. But that’s really one motivation I can never say no to: My students. So, I took the plunge, and started completing the paperwork. That’s where the learning process began.
I interviewed Michael Leviton*, Director of Donor Services – Central Jersey Blood Center and he explained the urgency in the need of donations: “Less than 5% of eligible people donate blood. Everyone knows someone in their family that is going through or has been through a tough situation. Whether it’s cancer, a car accident, or premature babies – the need for blood is constant. It takes two days to test blood donations. If someone you cared about needed blood, it’s not you who would help them – it’s that stranger who [went out of his/her way] to donate a week ago. Right now, almost every blood center is facing a crisis in their lifesaving inventory.”
I learned that one pint of blood could potentially help three people. According to the Red Cross, “every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.” Demand is high, supply is low, and we’re talking about lives.
If you’ve never donated blood before, this is the basic process:
- Read pertinent information regarding travel, medications, and sexual history. Fill out “registration” information, such as name and contact info.
- Fill out a questionnaire which asks a number of very personal questions regarding your personal history, including travel, medications, and sexual contact.
- Meet with a technician who will review your answers and ask you to explain/clarify if anything may be questionable.
- If your questionnaire is cleared, they will ask for your height and weight. They will take your temperature, test your blood for iron, and take your blood pressure. If you cleared “medical,” then you’re clear to donate blood.
- You will be set up on a gurney and asked to squeeze a ball to help your arm-vein pop. They will insert a needle into your arm, and fill several vials of blood – these they use to test your blood multiple times before giving it to anyone. Once the vials are filled, a bag will be attached where you will donate about one pint of blood. This can take between 10-20 minutes, depending on your blood flow.
- A little machine beeps, they clean your arm, you get a cool colored arm band, and head over to the “refreshment station” where they provide snacks and drinks to help you recover your blood sugar levels.
- Get those feel-good feelings because you just saved three potential lives!
After my first time donating blood, I knew this was something I needed to do on a regular basis. It was the one donation where I could give of myself, and not just empty cash (but I advocate to donate to whatever you care about in whatever way you can). By the same time one year later, I trained one student, Amy Tan, to take leadership control and help train others about the importance of donating blood. Soon, she was taking over my position, and I was incredibly proud. And then Amy became diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare bile-duct cancer, and she passed away within six months of discovering her disease. I was heartbroken, as were all of her classmates, and the need and drive for blood donation ignited a personal fire in me to drive us to the top donating high school in Staten Island for 2013 and 2014. Amy received multiple donations during her treatment, and though the ending was painful, I know she would want us to advocate for education and action.
When I left my leadership position, I didn’t leave behind my commitment to donate blood. I became part of the “Gallon Club,” and soon began also donating platelets and plasma because of my rare blood type. There is a great gratification in believing that part of me is alive in someone else; I visualize it as the whole world beating with one heart.
If you have never donated blood, I understand if you may have some concerns. Rest assured, the process is completely safe and sanitary. If you’re afraid of needles, it’s only one quick needle and the professional phlebotomists you work with have been doing this so often, they make it so you can hardly even feel a thing. I strongly urge you to consider spending those 45 minutes to help save a life. It’s truly a gift unlike any other.
*If you have any questions, or would like to contact Michael Leviton, he may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.