Why Tucson Must Become A Community Of Blood Donors

| April 11, 2011

Jaime at chemotherapy

In my volunteer work some years ago with Red Cross Blood Services of Southern Arizona, I got my first glimpse into the reality of Tucson children battling cancer. I visited with them as they received chemo, taking their pictures and documenting a tiny bit about them. I made large posters with pictures of these beautiful children and would later sit with donors at blood drives and relate the children’s stories to them. I encouraged the donors to sign the posters and write messages of love and hope. The kids and their families loved to get these huge cards covered in messages from the donors. The donors might not have fully realized it, but to the families, these people were heroes that were literally giving the “Gift of Life”.


Ducky, diagnosed with leukemia at 2 YOA

There was rarely a dry eye during this story telling, but there was always a renewed commitment to donate blood again and again. Donors were able to make the connection directly between their selfless act, and the reason that it was so important. You see, chemotherapy destroys blood cells, good cells and cancer cells alike – requiring replacement blood products. Concurrent blood transfusions can be as integral to chemotherapy as the chemo chemicals themselves. When blood supplies run low in Tucson, chemotherapy patients are at risk of delayed or skipped treatments. Timely treatment can make all the difference in the world to many very ill people. And sometimes we let them down. There is a near continuous blood-supply shortage in Tucson, and across much of America.

Picture of Claudia

Claudia, diagnosed with cancer at 5 YOA

We tend to think of people needing blood transfusions in the context of trauma victims and emergency rooms. In reality, trauma related transfusions represent a small percentage of blood use. As our medical technology has advanced, as we have created therapies for many more illnesses, so has the need for vast, continuous quantities of blood increased as well. Blood can only be voluntarily donated (the thought being that paying for blood donations increases the chances of contaminated blood from high-risk donors). Most blood products are used in routine therapies and surgical procedures – not for accident victims. Yet tens of thousands of people need frequent medical treatments that involve transfusion of blood products in order to survive. Chances are, you’ll be a user someday too. Over 80% of us will use a blood product at some point in our lives. Then you too will be dependent on the 5% of the eligible population that donates in a given year (military members and their families participate at a far higher rate).

Having an adequate safe blood supply on hand is not an option to someone with cancer, or a blood disorder, or to someone in emergency surgery. I remember interviewing a young Tucson mom who suffered severe complications during the birth of her only child. In the frantic effort to save this woman’s life the doctors used every unit of blood in the hospital, and called for emergency delivery of more. More units of blood were used in those moments than are collected in most blood drives.

picture of two young brothers

Wearing a cap to support big brother

The power of your donation extends further than you might think. Each donation is processed into components; platelets, red blood cells, and plasma. These 3 blood products can be used to treat 3 different patients. Plasma has the longest “shelf life”. It can be frozen and stored for up to a year. Red blood cells can be stored for up to 42 days. Platelets last a terribly brief 5 days. Elective surgeries are sometimes delayed due to blood supply shortages, but for many there is no “elective” to their treatments. There is no substitute for human blood. Every drop of transfused blood comes from another human being.

The most common reason people don’t donate blood is they just don’t think about it, followed closely by being too busy. Blood donation was a regular and patriotic duty to past generations, today it’s importance has faded into the shadows. Yet it is a completely safe and hugely rewarding act. You cannot contract AIDS or any infectious disease by donating blood. The process is simple; a medical history, quick physical, the actual donation (about 10 minutes), and a short observation time with snacks. What else can you do with an hour every few months that is so incredibly wonderful?

This is National Volunteer Week, celebrating those who give their time for the benefit of others. I urge you to consider becoming a regular volunteer blood donor. Make an appointment at one of the Red Cross Blood Centers, or donate at a blood drive at your school, church, or place of business. Or coordinate a blood drive of your own. The Red Cross will be happy to help you schedule a blood drive at your location if a sufficient number of people participate. Make a challenge of it!

Call 1-800-GIVE LIFE  or visit the Tucson Red Cross blood drive online calendar here

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Category: Health

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