Giving Blood: One donation can make a difference for many

By Mark T. Stout
Technological advances in medicine have helped increase someone’s chance of surviving cancer, recovering from a traumatic injury, or beating the odds of a disease that was once considered untreatable, but there are no advances that can substitute for the need of blood. The three major components of blood -- red cells, platelets and plasma -- play a huge role in many patients’ treatments and procedures. Across the nation, 5 million people in the United States receive life-saving blood transfusions on an annual basis, and only 5 percent of the eligible population donates.
The need for blood donations tends to become critical around the holidays and in mid-winter, but donations are needed year round. In 2009, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center used 22,592 units of blood as part of their care for patients. A typical leukemia patient will probably require 50 to 100 units of packed red blood cells alone and probably the same amount of platelets during their chemotherapy treatment and recovery.
How do these numbers demonstrating the need relate to blood donation? One blood donation can be broken down into red cells, platelets, and plasma with the potential to save up to three lives. Platelets only last for five days, red blood cells last for 42 days, and frozen plasma lasts for up to a year. With the variation in expiration dates, blood supplies are carefully managed to try to avoid critical lows. Unfortunately the needs for blood changes every day and this alone puts a strain on the system.
The best way to alleviate the pressure is to sustain current donors and continue to recruit new donations. Penn State Hershey Medical Center recently completed the first year of an on-going campaign to encourage employees to donate blood. In 2009, employees donated 1,556 units of blood. As part of the recruitment process, team captains for each department or unit across campus helped to spread valuable information, such as
  • The actual donation process takes only 30-45 minutes from start to end
  • What are the common blood types
  • Who is or isn’t eligible to donate
The team captains had resources to turn to for a question they could not answer, which provided a good support network and encouragement for first-time donors.
As the program enters its second year, the employee donation campaign will more actively help celebrate donors who achieve donation milestones and highlight the stories behind why employees find donating blood to be a rewarding act. Plans are in place to also encourage family members of patients to donate while they are waiting for procedures or treatments to be completed at the medical center.
Blood donations are accepted on a walk-in basis or by appointment at the medical center’s Hope Drive donation center. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 717-531-5063.
Mark T. Stoudt is a physician’s assistant and bone marrow transplant coordinator at Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute.