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When Disasters Strike, Donating Blood Is a Simple Way to Make a Difference

Photo: Courtesy of Nguyễn Hiệp

To ensure patients have uninterrupted access to lifesaving blood products, the American Red Cross asks eligible individuals to commit to donating blood, platelets, or plasma year-round, as well as in times of disasters.

In the time it takes to read this sentence, an average of six people will have needed a blood transfusion. And when disaster strikes, time is of the essence.

In times of crisis, people naturally want to help. Whether it’s in the aftermath of a wildfire, earthquake, hurricane, or flood, we often see compassion and strength as individuals pledge their support. One way people can consider helping during a tragedy is by donating blood. While trying times can bring the need for blood to the top of mind, the need for blood is constant and volunteer donors are needed year-round to help provide lifesaving blood for those in need. 

Every day, many types of emergencies happen in communities across the country. It’s important to be prepared when your community unexpectedly is hit by an emergency situation.

Preparing communities 

A strong blood supply is an essential part of ensuring a community is prepared. It’s important that the Red Cross has a sufficient blood supply on hand to meet the needs of patients every day and be prepared for emergencies of all types, including those that can disrupt blood drives or require blood or platelet transfusions.

When blood is donated, it can take up to three days for it to be processed, tested, and made available for patients, which is why it’s important that individuals do not wait until an emergency happens to give blood. When a patient needs a transfusion, the blood that is already on the shelf is what can make the difference between life and death. With a short shelf life of just 42 days for blood and just five days for platelets, the supply must be continuously replenished.

When someone commits to donating blood on a regular basis, they can help ensure their community is prepared to respond when tragedy strikes. As a national network, the Red Cross is able to move blood to where it is needed most, meaning every community can play a part in responding to a disaster, even if they are not directly affected by it.

Sickle cell disease

September is not only the height of disaster season but also Sickle Cell Awareness Month. For those battling this disease, the need for blood is often constant. Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that affects up to 100,000 people in the United States, most of whom are Black, and requires frequent blood transfusions to relieve pain caused by the disease. People with sickle cell disease have red blood cells that are stiff and distorted in shape, sometimes blocking blood flow.

A person with sickle cell disease may need up to 100 pints of blood a year. Since the best blood match for a patient receiving ongoing transfusions comes from donors of the same genetic background, the Red Cross encourages people of all ethnicities to give blood to help increase the number of diverse donors so we can find the best match for all patients. The need is great, but it only takes one blood donor to help save a life, which in turn will touch countless lives.

Another way to help

Blood drive hosts also play a critical role in maintaining a sufficient blood supply as they provide opportunities for people to give in their local community. The Red Cross is always looking for blood drive hosts. By hosting a blood drive, an individual or group can recruit dozens of blood donations and make a significant impact on patient care. 

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