Your Health
By Michael Warren

Donating blood isn’t anywhere near as much fun as a candlelight dinner for two, but it’s a whole lot more rewarding and a lot less expensive. 

Blood is one of the world’s most precious commodities; it is perishable and its only source is another human being. The number of people willing to be donors limits its supply, and no amount of money in the world can buy it if a donor is not available. 

So why don’t people stand in line to replenish the blood bank’s supply? After all, transfusion technology is highly sophisticated and safe. All donations, even yours, are tested for hepatitis, HIV and other bad diseases. 

However, none of this seems to alleviate the fear of having a needle inserted into your arm, watching your blood flow into a plastic container and the possibility of feeling light headed after it’s all over. 

Let’s put this into perspective. Pretend you are badly in need of blood during an emergency. Consider the emotional pain felt by your family. And you’re afraid of a needle stick? Shame on you. 

The deposit you make at the blood bank must be used quickly or it spoils. Consequently, blood banks must constantly face the challenge of replenishing their assets. 

Certain times of the year are more critical than others. Blood supplies are often reduced after holidays because of an increase in holiday-related injuries and postponed elective surgeries. 

Some blood types are more in demand than others, regardless of the season. AB Negative, a rare blood type, is always in short supply. If your blood is Type AB-negative and you are healthy, you are a particularly valuable customer. 

The most common blood type is O-positive. However, because it is the largest group, the blood bank must have a generous supply on hand. 

If your major fear of the blood bank is its inability to monitor its own supply, you can consider “autologous transfusion,” if faced with elective surgery. This simply means that you donate to yourself in advance of the operation. The blood is then frozen, though it can be kept for only a limited time. You cannot store your own blood for future use indefinitely. 

Today, blood banks can divide the donation into various component parts, to be used for different reasons. This allows for better storage and a longer shelf life. 

If you are concerned about your own health, and if you care just a little bit about your fellow human beings, you can’t help but consider the possibility of visiting your local blood bank. 

Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith Professor of Surgery in the division of urology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.