Give a Pint. Save a Life. Become a Blood Donor.

by Lisa Emrich Patient Advocate

What did you do special for New Year's? Do you have any special traditions? Or do you still need to make a New Year's Resolution or two?

For years, my father and I had a routine we shared during the holidays when I would travel home from college. We would go downtown into Oklahoma City to the Oklahoma Blood Institute to donate blood. That became part of our New Year's celebration.

Since 1970, January has been recognized as National Blood Donation Month in the United States. It is a time of year where blood is traditionally in short supply, partially due to the holidays, travel schedules, inclement weather and illness. No matter the time of year blood is always in need.

Blood donation centers frequently offer special incentives to encourage healthy, eligible individuals to donate. Each pint of blood can be life-saving. For me, it was the promise of a t-shirt which added to the reward of donating blood each Christmas/New Year's season. The Oklahoma Blood Bank would offer two different shirts, either featuring the University of Oklahoma Sooners or the Oklahoma State University Cowboys, available just before the College Football Bowl games. Of course, I always chose my alma mater - the Sooners.

As the college bowl season comes to an end and the winter season truly begins, blood supplies tend to run lower according to Jennifer Bowman, PR and Marketing Manager of Rock River Valley Blood Center in Rockford, Illinois.

"The need for blood is constant," Bowman said. "One in three people will need blood in their lifetime and each day, patients across the country receive more than 40,000 units of the vital resource. This year alone, more than five million people will require blood transfusions, as accident victims, people undergoing surgery and patients receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer and other diseases."

Both of my parents have been high volume blood donors. My mother's blood type is O negative. She would frequently get called with requests to donate blood as specific needs arose. She had donated in excess of 3 gallons (more than 24 units of blood) before developing a benign heart condition which deferred her from being eligible to donate. Now that she has been diagnosed with lupus and scleroderma, she is not longer eligible to donate.

Does a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis make one ineligible to donate blood?

I had difficulty finding a concrete answer to this question. Anemia is one cause to be deferred from donating. It is common for patients living with RA to be anemic which would make them ineligible for donation. Some of the medications taken for RA may also make you ineligible. It is my understanding that patients who use methotrexate, for example, are not able to donate blood.

If you wish to donate, call your local blood bank. Be prepared to reveal your diagnoses and provide a list of the medications you use. If you are not able to give your own blood, you can still contribute by spreading awareness and encouraging others to donate, or by providing a financial donation.

To be eligible to donate blood, you must:

  • Be healthy. (Note: Healthy means that you feel well and can perform normal activities. If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, healthy also means that you are being treated and the condition is under control.)

  • Be at least 17 years old in most states, or 16 years old with parental consent if allowed by state law.

  • Weigh at least 110 lbs. Additional weight requirements apply for donors 18 years old and younger and all high school donors.

  • Remember to bring your donor card, driver's license or two other forms of ID.

If you have a cold or are feeling ill, you should wait until you feel healthy to donate. Additional requirements apply for "Double Red Cell" donors.

The American Red Cross offers Tips for a Successful Donation, including:

  • Maintain a healthy iron level in your diet by eating iron-rich foods, such as spinach, red meat, fish, poultry, beans, iron-fortified cereals and raisins.

  • Get a good night's sleep.

  • Drink an extra 16 oz. of water and fluids before the donation.

  • Eat a healthy meal before the donation, but avoid fatty foods which can affect some of the tests conducted on all donated blood.

  • Wear clothing with sleeves that can be raised above the elbow.

  • Tell the phlebotomist if you have a preferred arm or where your "good veins" are.

  • Enjoy a snack and refreshments provided at the donation center.

  • Drink plenty of fluids over the next 24-48 hours to replenish fluids you lost during donation.

  • Avoid strenuous physical activity or heavy lifting for about five hours after donation.

  • If you feel light-headed, lie down until the feeling passes, preferably with your feet elevated.

  • If for any reason something doesn't feel right, call the number provided to you after your donation.

The first time I donated blood, I was glad that my father was there with me. He was an old pro at it and definitely a calming influence. I recommend that you go with a friend and make an afternoon of it. Perhaps you can be that calming influence for others and treat yourself to a nice lunch afterwards.

To learn more about blood, organ, and tissue donation, read these posts:

Give a Pint. Save a Life. Become a Blood Donor.

Chronic Bleeding, Autoimmune Disease, and Blood Transfusions

Organ Donation: Is an RA Patient Allowed to Donate?

Multiple Sclerosis Tissue Donation: Your Brain on Research

(more posts to come)

Lisa Emrich
Meet Our Writer
Lisa Emrich

Living with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid Arthritis, Lisa Emrich is an award-winning, passionate patient advocate, health writer, classical musician, and backroad cyclist. Her stories inspire others to live better and stay active. Lisa is author of the blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa frequently works with organizations in support of better policies, patient-centered research, and research funding. Lisa serves on HealthCentral’s Health Advocates Advisory Board, and is a Social Ambassador for the MSHealthCentral Facebook page.