Donate Life

The blood supply varies in certain regions of the U.S. and levels fluctuate throughout the year. Approximately 38 percent of the population is eligible to donate blood; however, less than 10 percent do in any given year. All blood transfusions are provided through volunteer blood donations and are essential in the treatment of chronic or life-threatening conditions and diseases, in addition to those who suffer excess blood loss from emergencies and accidents. In excess of 53,000 patients need an organ transplant, however, less than half of them will receive it and approximately 2,000 patients are added to the organ donation waiting list every month. Nearly one-third of patients who are on the donation list for heart, lung and liver transplants die due to a lack of donors and available organs. And nearly 25 percent of those waiting for liver transplants are children younger than 10 years of age. The need for donated organs is much greater than the supply and lives can be saved if more people would make the decision to be organ, tissue and blood donors. One organ donor can save up to 50 people and there is no substitute for blood, therefore, becoming a blood, organ or tissue donor is donating life.

Blood Types

There are three versions of the blood type gene, which are A, B and O. Because people have two copies of the blood type gene, there are six combinations possible, which include AA, BB, OO, AB, BO, and AO. This combination is called a genotype and describes the genes inherited from the individual’s parents. In addition to the main genotypes, some people have an antigen, called the Rh factor on the surface of their red blood cells, causing them to be Rh positive or Rh+ blood types. If the Rh antibodies are present and the individual has type A blood, for example, they have type A positive or A+ blood. If the Rh factor isn’t present and they have type B blood, they are said to have type B negative or B- blood. With the Rh factor, there are two additional blood type combinations, making 8 possible blood types. Generally, Rh negative blood is administered to Rh-negative patients, but Rh positive blood or Rh negative blood can be given safely to Rh positive patients. However, not all blood types are compatible and combining incompatible blood groups can cause blood clumping, which is dangerous. The presence or absence of blood antigens can trigger an immune response leading to the patient’s body attacking the transfused blood if cross-matching between blood types isn’t compatible. The most common blood type is “O positive.” Individuals can find out what type of blood they have by donating. After blood is drawn, it’s tested for ABO group blood type, the Rh factor, and for other red blood cell antibodies. The clinic, blood bank or hospital tests all blood donations they receive, and will notify the patient. The most critically needed blood types are O+, O-, AB- and B-.

Blood Donation

Although the demand for blood is constant, the supply isn’t. Donating blood saves lives and with 1 in 3 people needing blood in their lifetimes, chances are nearly everyone knows someone who will require a transfusion. Blood donations make life-saving blood transfusions possible for cardiac patients during surgery, accident victims who lose large amounts of blood, premature infants, and those with chronic diseases, which include cancer and sickle cell anemia, as they slow the healthy production of blood cells. When an individual donates blood, it’s separated into multiple components, such as red blood cells, plasma and platelets, and those separate components are transfused to patients who require them. Patients undergoing non-emergency surgery are candidates for autologous blood donation, which is self-donation. Typically, the individual donates blood before the procedure and the blood is stored at the hospital in case it’s needed. Besides testing for blood type and antibodies, other tests are performed on donated blood, such as screening for the HIV virus, hepatitis B and C viruses, West Nile virus (WNV) and syphilis. In order to be eligible to donate blood, individuals should be at least 16 years of age or in accordance with state law, weigh at least 110 lbs. or as required by the facility, and pass the physical and health history examination. It takes the body approximately two weeks to replace red blood cells, therefore; there is an 8-week waiting requirement for blood donations. However, two units of blood can be donated at one time by using a process called red cell apheresis, which can be done once every 16 weeks. Blood donations can be made through community hospital donor clinics, blood centers and bloodmobiles, which are typically large vans or buses that travel to locations, such as places of work, schools, churches or community organizations. Companies often hold “blood drives” to encourage their employees to take part in company-wide health initiatives and to create awareness.

Bone Marrow and Umbilical Cord Blood Donation

Bone marrow or umbilical cord blood donation is needed for people suffering from immune system disorders, genetic metabolic disorders, leukemia and lymphoma. Bone marrow is a substance found in bones that contain white blood cells and blood stem cells, which produce red blood cells and platelets, and carry oxygen throughout the body to fight infection and control bleeding. Patients needing bone marrow transplants require blood stem cells to encourage the production of new marrow inside the bone, and in order to replace diseased blood with healthy blood cells. Although family members or siblings are initially sought for bone marrow transplants, approximately 70 percent of patients won’t have a match in their families, and donors may be their only option. In addition, many bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant patients also require regular blood transfusions during treatment due to the loss of red blood cells during chemotherapy and other treatments.

Organ and Tissue Donation

Thousands of people die every year due to a lack of donors and a severe deficiency in available organs. For patients suffering from organ failure, organ transplantation is their only hope. Every 18 minutes, a new name is added to the organ transplant waiting list and every 24 hours eight people die because the organs they need to live aren’t available. An organ transplant is a surgical procedure in which the damaged or failing organ is replaced with a new, healthy one from a donor. Transplantable and needed organs include the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. Charges associated with organ and tissue donation are paid for by the organ and tissue procurement program, there are no changes in the quality of or medical care coverage for organ and tissue donors, and studies provide evidence that the overwhelming majority of families of organ and tissue donors find consolation in their loved one’s decision to donate.

How to Become an Organ and Tissue Donor

Provided they didn’t have HIV or cancer, anyone who is deceased and 18 to 75 years of age can become an organ and tissue donor. Individuals who would like to become an organ and tissue donor can sign a “uniform donor card,” which indicates their intent to be a donor and carry it with them at all times. If an individual is under 18, they may become a donor if their parent or legal guardian gives consent. At the time of death, one of the individual’s family members will be required to sign an organ donation consent form. Therefore, organ and tissue donors should discuss their intentions with family members so that their wishes will be honored following their death, and their family members can have clarity regarding their decisions. In order to become an organ donor, a person must officially be declared brain dead by a physician and remain on a breathing ventilator to preserve the vital organs. Brain death is a legal definition of death and occurs when there is a complete and irreversible ceasing of all brain functions. Tissue donation, however, can be performed after brain death or cardiac death, which is when the heart stops beating. Unlike organ donation, patients don’t need to be kept on a respirator for tissue donation to be successful.

Who Can’t Donate

Generally, individuals with hepatitis or cancer aren’t candidates for organ donation. However, for those who have or have been cured of cancer, it depends on the type and severity. Although the risk of passing the disease on through donated organs is small, there are reports of it happening. Those who have HIV or Aids can’t donate blood or become organ and tissue donors. Other reasons which prevent people from donating blood include stroke, heart surgery, Tuberculosis, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and using narcotics or other illegal drugs. Factors that prevent people from donating blood temporarily and until they are in better health, include having a cold, being pregnant, taking antibiotics, menstruation, getting a tattoo 6 months prior, having oral surgery 3 days before, having the flu or a respiratory infection, having a sore throat or sinus infection and having a blood transfusion within the previous 12 months. For a complete list of reasons people can’t donate, please refer to the eligibility guidelines below.