If I were a superhero, my super power would be to save many lives at once with little effort. As a blood donor, I can do that.
Trinity Hospital depends on blood donors. In fact, every hospital in North Dakota depends on blood donors. Donated blood helps meet many medical needs, such as restoring the strength of a cancer patient, saving the life of a premature baby, and providing critical transfusion to someone in surgery. Every 2 seconds someone in the U. S. needs blood and/or platelets, according to Teresa Johnson, donor recruiter for Vitalant.
The amount of blood in the human body is generally equivalent to 7 percent of body weight. This estimate depends on how much you weigh, your sex, and even where you live. The average adult weighing 150 to 180 pounds should have 1.2 to 1.5 gallons of blood in their body, or 10 pints.
Blood donations only require one pint of blood, and although an estimated 6.8 million people in the U.S. donate blood and contribute to 13.6 million units of whole blood and red blood cells annually, it is not enough. Approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells, 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed every day.
What happens to donated blood?
Donated blood is separated into red blood cells, platelets, and plasma. After a blood drive, a courier transports it to a lab in Fargo, where it’s stored until cleared for community use. Test tube samples are sent to another lab out of state where they are tested for more than 17 blood borne diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, and Zika virus, to name a few. “It takes about 2.5 days after a donation for it to clear and be sent to community hospitals,” said Johnson.
Red blood cells are typically used in surgeries where there may be a lot of bleeding, such as a trauma, heart surgery or an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Platelets are useful for cancer patients, or those with low platelet counts where there is potential for bleeding. Plasma is used for clotting factor deficiencies and burn victims. A regular day at Trinity Health might call for seven to 10 units of red blood cells for various needs such as surgeries, GI bleeds, cancer patients, or anemias. Jodi Grunseth, technical supervisor for transfusion medicine, says that Trinity Hospital maintains a daily reserve of 95 units and uses approximately 2800 units of blood per year.
“Red blood cells are viable for 42 days from the time of donation when stored between 1-6 degrees Celsius. Plasma can be stored up to a year when frozen, or five days once thawed; platelets are viable for three to five days from the time we receive them while stored at room temp,” she said.
As a donor recruiter for Vitalant, Johnson also keeps a close eye on numbers. The overly enthusiastic, colorful tracking system on her office door speaks volumes about her passion to meet monthly goals that drive business and save lives. Johnson puts in a lot of “windshield time” as she covers communities across northwest North Dakota and into Montana. To stay organized, she plans blood drives 90 days out, as she strives to meet her monthly goals, which average 700 units.
“Goals are based on usage trend and demand. That means if my goal is 700 units, Vitalant has committed 700 units of blood that month to area hospitals,” she said. “It can be hard in the winter to meet goals, especially when the weather is bitter cold, or the roads are bad. I have to think about our equipment working; maintaining the integrity of the blood once we have it; whether or not it’s safe for people to travel. And yet, if we cancel a drive, it is hard to make up (quotas) to meet the current need.”
Johnson points out that 80 percent of us will need a blood transfusion some time in our lives. “Nationally, 5 percent of the population will take time to donate. In North Dakota, only 2-3 percent of the population donates,” she added.
In 2020 the need for blood was low due to COVID-19 and hospitals delaying nonessential surgical procedures. However, no one scheduled blood drives either, so “reserves were wiped out.”
All of us have the power to make a difference. A quote from another superhero, Batman, underscores our potential: “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
Find your inner superhero and schedule an appointment today. Go to www.vitalant.org to learn more.