January is National Blood Donor Month

Start off the new year right, by donating blood to the Red Cross or your local blood bank in honor of National Blood Donor Month. The process only takes an hour of your time, and results in lifesaving platelets or pints of blood for those in need. I remember the first time I signed up to give blood, as a junior in high school. Not only would I get to miss out on my Chemistry lesson, but they promised free pizza and an easy chance to help the world. Students were strapped into chairs next to each other, facing a tiny television screen playing The Beauty and the Beast. Two nurses, a warming pad, and about half a dozen needle pricks later they were unable to find a vein viable enough to produce enough blood needed for a donation. They gave me a piece of pizza anyway, I was asked not to try to donate blood again and was sent back to Chemistry class with arms full of Band-Aids and a feeling of despair.

Hundreds of thousands of healthy people with good, visible veins unlike mine donate blood every year. I have seen the Red Cross donation truck parked at shopping malls, grocery store parking lots, and schools and there are donation centers located nationwide. All blood types are needed and with more traffic accidents happening during the winter season, clean backup blood is sparse this time of year.

The first month of the year has been recognized as National Blood Donor Month since 1970. According to the American Association of Blood Banks, now known as AABB, in the United States every day, “approximately 39,000 units of blood are required in hospitals and emergency treatment facilities for patients with cancer and other diseases, for organ transplant recipients, and to help save the lives of accident victims.” The AABB works in conjunction with the American Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers and their main goal is to help those in need of blood, especially in harsh winter environments due to illness, accidents, and unforeseen weather conditions.

In order to donate blood, you have to meet certain donor requirements. The most important is that you must be at least 17 years old in order to give blood voluntarily, although some states do consent at 16 with written parental consent. You must be at least 110 pounds, you should be healthy meaning without infection, not on antibiotics, without a fever, and generally feeling well on day of donation. You may only donate if you have not given blood within 8 weeks. The rest of the guidelines are available here from the American Red Cross.

CEO of America’s Blood Centers, Jim MacPherson says that a major shortage during the cold season could risk lives if people don’t try to donate on a regular basis. “To avert critical blood shortages this winter, we need citizens across the country to schedule an appointment to donate blood…. Blood has a shelf life of only 42 days, which means it constantly needs to be replenished. Donors can give blood every 56 days, or six times a year.”

Teachers and students around the country can also benefit from blood donor month without even having to donate blood. Because elementary age students are unable to donate, donation centers offer classes and demonstrations on how a blood bank works including the different types of blood, the blood donation process, all while providing a community service and an informative lesson plan for schools and home school families.

By inviting a spokesperson to talk to your class or organizing a field trip to your local blood bank, teachers can inspire their students to do more in the future and donate themselves. If you are too young to donate or have non-viable veins like me, you can still help by offering a monetary donation or simply by volunteering your help during this important donation window. Once the New Year is over, the champagne is gone, and the parties are cleaned up, think about donating blood this January, you might even get a slice of pizza.


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