Donate Blood? Not on Your Life, or Maybe For It

I was really disappointed when I went to give blood for a bone marrow drive this summer and was turned away because I'd had radiation therapy for breast cancer.  I'd never given blood and I thought it was time.

I have friends who give it all the time.  But they're actually quite rare.  Do you know what percentage of people who are eligible donate blood? Three percent.  That's right.  Barely anyone.

The Mayo Clinic recently did a study to find out why, and it's not really a big surprise.  Fear and anxiety, it turns out, according to

But there are those who can be depended on to donate, sometimes more than they should.  U.S. hospitals are always in need of new donors.  "At Mayo Clinic, that need is heightened by concern about iron deficiency in frequent givers," reports. Mayo recently began requiring people to wait 12 weeks rather than eight between donations, a change that means an estimated 10 percent drop in its blood supply.

People fear a lot of things about donating blood, including needles, the sight of blood (I'm pretty tough but I had to look away every time they drew blood during all my procedures), fainting, nausea, that donating will give you a health problem or that the donor center will start bugging you now every month to give more.

But, as Manish Gandhi, M.D., medical director of the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Center, points out, fear not.

First, needles are disposable and promptly thrown away after use, if you're worried about contagious diseases.  And the needles used in blood donation definitely "are not the harpoons that needle-phobic people may think they are," newswise notes, and quotes Gandhi as saying donors feel a pinprick, much like getting a vaccination.

And if you're afraid of the sight of blood, "You don’t have to see the blood,” Gandhi tells the Web site. “Our seats have TVs on them; you can watch a movie, you can watch a show while you are donating blood, so you don’t have to look at it.”

As for fear of fainting, donor centers take steps to prevent this. Few people faint, and research has shown that just because it happens once, that doesn’t mean it will again.

And nausea? Easily avoided, quotes Gandhi.  Eat a healthy breakfast before you come and that should take care of it.  But not a cheeseburger or anything fatty, he advises.  "We don’t want plasma that is full of fat molecules,” Gandhi says.

If you're worried that once you give, you'll get pestered to give again, "Blood banks tend to respect donors’ privacy and how frequently they like to be called," says Gandhi.

What about getting a health problem from donating blood?  Potential donors are screened for health problems to make sure they are healthy enough to give. “In most cases, a healthy person — donating blood would probably do them good, because basically you are going to replenish new blood,” Gandhi tells

So, think about it.  A half-hour and you could help,or save, three lives, every time you do it.


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