Donating blood is a quick and selfless act of kindness. Blood is always needed—according to the Red Cross, someone in the United States needs blood every two seconds.
For World Blood Donor Day, we interviewed two members of our PRA family who have gone above and beyond for Red Cross efforts. We discussed why donating blood matters and how it could save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blood matters—according to the Red Cross, someone in the United States needs blood every two seconds. For World Blood Donor Day, we discuss why donating blood is especially important when it comes to saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emmary Williams, Global Marketing Partner
Why do you think it is important for people to donate blood?
Blood isn't a treatment that can be manufactured, and the need for it is constant. Working at a CRO, I find it pretty cool that our bodies can produce life-saving treatments. Blood can only come from people, and it is estimated only 38% of people are eligible to donate. Of those people, only a fraction do.
There are many needs and uses for blood, whether it's to save people who’ve been in car accidents or provide transfusions for those undergoing surgery or cancer treatments. The amount of blood needed can vary greatly—a single individual can need upwards of 100 pints of blood from a car accident.
How did you become involved in donating blood and organizing blood drives?
I first donated at a high school blood drive when I was 17. Being nervous to donate for the first time, as most people are, I decided to donate to honor my mother.
When my twin sister and I were born, my mother faced some complications. She was exceptionally weak from the blood she lost during the birth, and a few days later, she lost even more blood from placental retention. She would have died if not for the blood transfusions she was able to receive. Without those blood transfusions—without the people who chose to donate that blood—she wouldn’t have survived. Donating is the least I can do to pass it on.
I’ve hosted blood drives since I was 18, and I’ve come to appreciate the importance of access to blood donations. Most people are busy, so it can be hard to make the effort to set up an appointment to donate on your own. When the opportunity is brought to people, they are far more likely to take the time to donate when they can run outside during their lunch break to donate. Hosting blood drives brings in blood that blood banks wouldn't normally receive.
Do you have any advice for people donating for their first time?
I've been organizing blood drives for a while, and I'd say that the majority of concerns I hear stem from being nervous around needles or the fear of passing out.
I understand why donating can be scary. I also at times experience nervousness and discomfort around donations, because I too am squeamish around blood. But I feel the discomfort felt is a small tradeoff for supplying a biological product used as a treatment to save lives. You don't have to watch—you can certainly look away, and the phlebotomists who take your blood work to make it as easy and painless as possible.
As long as you're hydrating and eating well beforehand, you should have a fine experience.
From your perspective, how do you think COVID-19 has affected organizations that collect blood? Do you have any worries as a blood donor or drive organizer?
I read that donations have decreased significantly in the US since quarantine started. Much of the blood supply comes from universities and high schools, which weren’t physically in session this spring, so they couldn’t host drives. Luckily, there is less of a need for blood, as elective surgeries and other blood needs have decreased.
When the nation starts to open back up, I worry that blood reserves will be quickly diminished. I hope there will be a coordinated effort between hospitals and blood banks to make sure demand does not exceed the supply.
I understand that donating blood right now could seem unsafe. You go into an environment where a needle is stuck into you. You don't have the control over your distance from others or the cleanliness of your environment. The Red Cross takes precautions to address all of these concerns. They wear gloves and masks and take your temperature before you donate. They limit walk-in appointments, so there’s more control over the number of people in the room at one time. They make it as easy and comfortable as possible—and I encourage you to donate in this time of need. You can look for a local drive here.
I’d also like to mention that the Red Cross is looking for people who have recovered from COVID-19 and are no longer showing symptoms. These individuals can donate plasma, which is being explored as a treatment for severe cases of COVID-19.
What about people who are unable to donate blood? How can they get involved?
There's always volunteer opportunities with organizations like the Red Cross! If you want to support a blood drive, you can volunteer to be onsite to organize and educate the donors and make sure the drive runs smoothly.
As a nonprofit, they also have humanitarian and relief efforts you can get involved in. Of course, you can always support the organization financially, too.
Tina Murphy, SVP, Human Resources
Why is it so important for people to donate blood?
It's extremely important to have blood drives because they really do save lives. Think of the thousands of people who go into hospitals, whether it be for surgeries or different types of emergency situations. It's critical that those who are able to donate do donate blood.
We’ve had so many drives cancelled because you can't pull large groups of people together during COVID-19, so there is definitely a blood shortage right now. The population in need is shifting.
What should first-time donors know before donating?
You can imagine someone feels hesitant to actually give blood for the first time, and even more so during COVID-19. Fortunately, I can assure you that it’s a relatively painless, quick, and easy process.
The American Red Cross is going above and beyond to ensure safety, firstly by getting workers tested for COVID-19. They also make sure everyone is spaced appropriately, controlling who’s coming in, and keeping everyone at a six-foot distance.
What has your experience been like donating blood?
I have been donating blood since I was 18. Interestingly enough, I started giving because my father was a frequent giver. He donated frequently because he has a special blood type. It was something that my dad and I bonded over. We started going in and giving blood, and I just kind of followed that throughout my life.
Donating together was a neat activity, and I learned that it goes even beyond the blood drives. I was inspired by what the American Red Cross does that people don’t often know about, like disaster relief, providing assistance to military families, and Sound the Alarm campaigns (installing fire alarms into people's homes that need them). The Red Cross is something that hits home locally for everyone.
I was approached about joining the Red Cross board. I gladly joined the board and eventually I became a part of their mission committee. This past year, I became the Vice Chair on the Board. Next year, I’ll move to the Board Chair for the Eastern North Carolina American Red Cross position.
I love being a part of the Red Cross because it’s obviously known for its blood donations, giving, and life-saving initiatives. But the Red Cross does a lot more than that. It’s helped with the things I mentioned earlier, as well as hurricane relief. The Red Cross offers many different classes and certifications such as First Aid, Life Guard, CPR, AED, babysitting, and much, much more.
It’s also a global organization. For example, I was in France this summer and I happened to see the American Red Cross out and about in Paris. It’s one of those organizations that is truly global, and it makes a significant impact on almost everyone's lives.
What are some other ways people can give back if they are unable to donate blood due to medical/health-related reasons?
You can volunteer to be a Blood Donor Ambassadors. These are the people who check you in, help donors go through the different stations, and assist the food and drink stations at the end of the donating process. They can even sit and talk with you during the blood-giving process if you're nervous.
Whether you’re hesitant about donating or have a medical reason why you can’t donate, there's still many ways to participate as a Red Cross volunteer. Currently, the American Red Cross is collecting convalescent plasma and it's actually working with industry partners. The plasma is collected from people who have fully recovered from COVID-19 and is being used as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Those individuals’ antibodies are used to attack the virus in new patients. This is a current worldwide operation.
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