January is National Blood Donor Month. Roll up your sleeves and give the gift of life to your community.
Blood banks across the country are experiencing the worst blood shortage in over a decade, according to the American Red Cross. National Blood Donor Month has been celebrated each January for nearly 50 years to bring attention to one of the most difficult times to maintain a sufficient blood supply because of busy holiday schedules, winter weather and seasonal illness.
The COVID-19 pandemic is increasing the demand for blood, creating even more problems for agencies like the Arkansas Blood Institute.
“Our blood program partners, like Baptist Health, play a vital role in making sure our blood supply is at an adequate level to be able to meet any emergency in our area by hosting blood drives for community members,” said Danny Cervantes, executive director of the Arkansas Blood Institute.
The Need For Loyal Donors
Roughly 1,200 units a day are needed to meet the blood needs of the region, which includes Oklahoma, Arkansas and parts of the northern Texas panhandle, Cervantes said.
Cervantes hopes this year more people will commit to regularly donating blood. Gwen Brooks, LPN, has been a loyal donor since she was the age of 17. Now as the trauma registrar at Baptist Health-Fort Smith, she takes the opportunity to donate at the drives held at the hospital every other month. In just a short amount of time, Brooks knows she can make a huge difference in the lives of patients in her community.
“It’s the one little thing I can do for someone else that may make a big impact in their outcome,” Brooks said. “You never know when you may be the one saving someone else’s life.”
Brooks knows not only as a nurse, but as a grandmother, the importance of donating blood. One of her grandchildren was seriously injured in a car accident four years ago. Multiple blood transfusions made it possible for the child to eventually become an organ donor and improve the lives of many others. Organ donation is also something Brooks is now passionate about. One blood donation can save up to three lives. Every organ donor can save eight lives, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
Health Benefits of Blood Donation
In addition to providing life-saving blood for hospital patients across the state, blood donors also reap numerous health benefits.
Donating blood can lower the risk of heart disease and heart attacks by reducing arterial blockages and improving blood flow, according to the American Heart Association. Donating blood on a semi-regular basis can also keep your iron levels balanced and improve liver health.
Prior to donation, each person is also provided a free health screening which includes checking blood pressure, pulse, and hemoglobin. Blood donations are also screened for numerous diseases. Simply put, donating blood can sometimes shed light on health issues you didn’t even know about.
Blood donation can also have emotional and psychological benefits by giving the donor a sense of pride and community. By donating blood, you know you’re positively impacting the lives of other people in your area in a way that no other volunteering can.
Dee Wilson, customer service representative at Baptist Health, had donated faithfully since high school, but eventually took a break after years of donation left her scar tissue in her arms, making her difficult to “stick.”
“The Red Cross said I’d been a hero for too long, but emails and reminders about our Baptist Health employee blood drives put the desire to donate in my heart again,” Wilson said.
In addition to experiencing the feeling of doing something good for your community, most blood programs offer collectable t-shirts and other prizes for those who take the time to donate.
“I enjoy collecting the T-shirts and wear them to serve as a reminder to everyone the importance of blood donation,” said Wilson. “More than anything I take pride in knowing I’m making a difference somewhere and quite possibly saving someone’s life.”
First Time Donor? 5 Tips to Help You Prepare
If you’ve never donated blood, here are five easy tips to help you prepare for a successful blood donation experience:
- Get plenty of sleep the night before you plan to donate.
- Eat a healthy meal before your donation. Focus on iron-rich foods like red meat, fish, poultry, beans, spinach and iron-fortified cereals or raisins.
- Stay hydrated in the days leading up to your donation. It’s important to drink at least an extra 16 ounces of water before your appointment to donate.
- Wear a shirt that allows easy access to your forearm.
- Check to see if any medications you are taking or recently took would prevent you from donating. For example, if you are a platelet donor, you must not take aspirin for two days prior to donating. Talk to your doctor before discontinuing any medications.
The Arkansas Blood Institute partners with approximately 1,200 organizations such as hospitals, colleges and retailers, across the state to host nearly 2,000 drives a year making it convenient for anyone to donate. To find a blood drive near you, visit: arkbi.org