January is National Blood Donor Month. It serves to recognize current donors and to encourage others who are healthy and able to donate blood. Winter months can see a drop in blood donations due to icy roads, snow, and illnesses that spread more in these cold months.
My Experience with Blood Donation:
In October of 2022 I donated blood for the first time. I was 39. I had thought about it several times before but wasn’t eligible because I lived with my family in London, UK in the late 1990s. For years I was kind of okay with being ineligible to donate, as I had long had a fear of needles. As a child, I would hide from blood draws or shots. But eventually, I really did want to give blood. In 2022 the FDA determined that those who had lived in the UK and other parts of Europe could safely give blood again without risk of contaminating the blood supply with “mad cow” disease. Soon after I learned that I signed up for a local blood drive.
As fate would have it, at the same time as my first blood donation, my niece, who lives across the country, was getting a blood transfusion. Knowing that we were practically in the chair at the same time made the donation more meaningful. My then four-year-old niece had begun needing blood transfusions that September. In total my niece had 10-15 blood transfusions over several months that kept her alive while doctors figured out the best treatment. Thankfully, as of this writing, she has not required blood transfusions for almost a year! Even though my donation did not go to her directly, it somehow made it seem that I had some control over the situation.
I have come to really appreciate and value the opportunity to give blood. Donating takes less than an hour; yet, in that short time, it impacts my life and can save up to three others. It gives me a positive feeling to know that I’m helping someone else! I’ve donated through the Red Cross, and I love that their app makes it easy to schedule and also shows where your blood was sent. Mine has gone to Maryland, Alabama and California.
I have two young kiddos who are learning that blood donation is one of many ways to help others. My youngest accompanied me to my most recent donation and was brave enough to sit beside me for the entire experience. The Red Cross phlebotomist even gave him his own stress ball to squeeze right along with me, and he got snacks afterward too.
Positive Impact on Mental Well-Being:
Blood donation can positively impact our mental health because volunteering and altruism have been shown to decrease depression. Blood donation can also help the donor because of the quick physical screen that is done that can reveal health issues. There are still restrictions in place for various things to protect the blood supply to include certain medications. Anti-depressants don’t normally prevent blood donation. It is recommended to “avoid heavy lifting or vigorous exercise for the rest of the day” after donation. For the average person, blood donation does not significantly impact our ability to exercise as normal in the days and weeks after as blood volume quickly returns to normal levels.
I’m scheduled to donate again in a few weeks. I invite you to join me—and many, many others—in donating blood if you are healthy and able to do so!
To find a location to donate (or volunteer!) near you: https://www.redcrossblood.org