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Honey! I just saved a life!

Donating blood or plasma can help you save a life in your community

Author: Patrick Vongchan, Emergency Management Specialist, HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response

Screen Shot 2020-06-27 at 16.1.16
courtesy of getty images

Saving someone’s life can be pretty simple.  As a volunteer EMT and firefighter in my community, I have gone through a lot of training so I can provide life-saving care when seconds count. I am proud to serve on the frontlines of the response to COVID-19, both in my volunteer role and as a responder from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Yet you don’t necessarily have to do all of that to help people in your community.  Sometimes, all you need to do is dedicate a little time - and be willing to give up about a half a liter of your blood. A single donation can save up to three lives, and it’s a safe way to help others in need, especially as we continue to fight COVID-19.

Much of modern healthcare relies on the steady, regular flow of blood donations. Patients who are getting cancer treatments, organ transplants, treatment for traumatic injuries, and are undergoing many other medical procedures all rely on blood donations.

Right now, the American Red Cross reports an urgent need for blood and platelet donations. As America opens up again, many people are getting medical procedures that were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, people who have recovered from COVID-19 can donate their plasma, which can be used as a treatment for hospitalized patients. Volunteer blood and plasma donations are needed to support these procedures as well as other medical needs.

To help meet this critical need, my friends and I agreed we would get out there and donate – and I am proud to say that I was the first one!  

Right now, you have to make an appointment to donate – walk-ins are generally discouraged due to social distancing requirements across the country. I went online and at first it looked like all of the donation slots were full, but I called my local blood donation center, and it turned out they did have times available! They were just having problems with their website. So, I scheduled my appointment and went to my local blood donation center.

Although some people are concerned that they could contract COVID-19 while donating blood, the risk is low and blood donation centers are taking precautions to protect their patients. When I donated blood, I was really impressed by all of the precautions the administrative and healthcare professionals at my area donation center were taking to help keep everyone safe.  They only allowed four people in to donate blood at a time, social distancing measures were in place, and they were sure to keep everything spotlessly clean and sanitize surfaces frequently.

When I arrived, I got a temperature screening, an interview, and a blood pressure test. Next, I sat back while the nurse pricked my arm and just waited until the donation was complete. For most people, the blood donation process is pretty quick. On average, it just takes an hour and 15 minutes to donate blood.

One of the great things about donating blood these days is that you know your donation really helps someone; in fact, I got a notification on my phone when someone received my donation! I turned to my wife and told her that I might have just saved someone’s life. It was pretty cool!

Today is World Blood Donor Day, and it is a great time to consider donating whole blood or plasma to help people in your community. Almost anyone who is in good health and over the age of 16 or 17, depending on the type of donation and the state where you live, can donate. 

If you have recently recovered from COVID-19, you also may be able to donate plasma to help fight the pandemic. Donating convalescent plasma, a possible treatment for the virus, allows you to share your potentially life-saving antibodies with people who are currently hospitalized with severe COVID-19 infections. Donating plasma does take a little more time – about three hours.  In order to donate, you must have a prior, verified diagnosis of COVID-19, but be symptom free and fully recovered at the time of your donation.  You also need to be at least 17 years old, weigh more than 110 pounds, and feel well. If you think you may be able to donate convalescent plasma, check out The Fight Is In Us, which offers a free analytic tool to help you assess your eligibility.  If you are able to donate, you can schedule an appointment at one of the many accredited donation centers across the country

Donating whole blood or plasma only takes a little time – and a prick on your arm – but your donation can be used to help save someone’s life and make your community a little bit healthier.