Imagine the world without the letters “A,” “B,” or “O” — not in books, text messages, even your name.
In a recent campaign to raise awareness about shortages of blood donations, the American Red Cross has been doing just that by removing the letters representing the different blood types from their logo and printed and online media.
Many large companies, including Amazon and Coca Cola, have joined in the campaign by removing these letter from logos as well.
One blood donation can save up to three lives, with blood transfusions being needed every two seconds in the United States for everything from regular cancer treatments to emergency trauma care, according to Red Cross. However, only three out of every 100 American adults donate blood, and the number of new donors is decreasing.
April Robbins, donor recruitment account manager for the Tucson region — includes Cochise County — affirms that the shortage is especially pressing in this area.
“Currently, we have only a three-day supply [of blood] on the shelves for our region,” she explained. “It’s scary because it’s leaving the shelves in the hospital faster than it’s coming in.”
Starting with the Memorial Day holiday, blood donations tend to be in even shorter supply, which continues throughout the summer. The American Red Cross website describes that “busy summer schedules, vacations and school breaks also cause a drop in donations.” This is even more prominent in Southern Arizona, adds Robbins, where there is a large population of snowbirds who leave for the summer.
Robbins said the Red Cross is in constant need of more of every blood type, but is in special need of O negative blood. O negative is “the universal blood type,” which can be given to any blood type, and is what is used in emergencies when a patient’s blood type is unable to be checked.
“We can’t make blood, it’s not synthetic,” Robbins said, stressing the importance of volunteer donors in saving lives. Whether it’s a planned treatment for a chronic illness or an emergency situation from a car accident, it is vital for hospitals to have a ready supply of blood on hand.
“Imagine that you were in the hospital, or had a family member or loved in the hospital needing a transfusion; would you give some immediately? Most people say ‘yes.’”
Sierra Vista resident Dionne Owin, who donated blood for the first time at a recent blood drive, describes how simple and impactive her experience was.
“It was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be,” she admits. She was inspired by her father-in-law, who donates about every eight weeks. Donors are generally eligible to donate blood every 56 days.
Owin helped add to Cochise County’s average of 5,000-10,000 units of blood donated a year, which accounts for 10 percent of all Arizona Red Cross blood donations.
“The process is super easy,” Robbins said to those who have never donated before. The whole process takes thirty minutes to an hour, and consists of going through a brief health screening, sitting in a bed while the blood is being drawn, and then taking a few minutes to rest and enjoy the provided refreshments.
Once the blood is collected, it is sent to the areas of greatest need, according to Robbins. “It is shipped to California where it is evaluated then shipped to the recipients in hospitals all across the country.”
Owin likewise encourages those who are hesitant about the process not to be put off by thinking that it is a long or painful process. “Go ahead and try it! It’s actually a very rewarding feeling once you complete it. It was a very comfortable process, not scary at all.”
All that is needed to be a donor is to be in good health, be at least 17 years of age, weigh at least 110 pounds, and have a desire to make a difference, with a few exceptions based on factors like medication and travel. Robbins also recommends drinking lots of water and eating iron-rich foods, such as salmon or spinach, before giving blood. Iron levels are tested before donating, and donors can be deferred for low iron levels.
“Giving blood is such a great way to give back to your community in a way that anyone can receive or give,” explains Kate Fellows, who has worked as a blood drive coordinator in Cochise County since her sophomore year at Buena High School. Working with the Red Cross and the donors over the years has made her realize that there are lots of ways to help those in need.
“Some people think a donation has to be giving a monetary donation or a lot of time, but it’s really as simple as a thirty-minute blood donation, because that can save a life and make an impact.”
With 11 blood drives currently scheduled to take place in Sierra Vista in July, there are plenty of opportunities for those interested in donating and saving lives. And, for those who would like to help the cause without donating blood, Robbins explained other areas of need.
“You can host a blood drive, volunteer at one, or help us recruit donors for the drive,” she said.
Details about upcoming area blood drives, steps on how to get involved, tips on how to prepare for giving blood, and more can be found on redcrossblood.org/.