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News | Jan. 17, 2024

National Blood Donor Month highlights vital need for donations

By Bernard Little, WRNMMC, Office Command Communications

January is National Blood Donor Month, an observance to encourage people to consider donating blood and platelets, explained Navy Lt. Michelle Wallace, director of the Armed Services Blood Bank Center – National Capital Region, located on Naval Support Activity Bethesda, home to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Wallace explained that because of the holidays, inclement weather, and cold and flu season, the winter months often experience reduced donations and an increased risk for blood shortages for many health care facilities. “National Blood Donor Month celebrates blood donors during this critical time and reminds people of the importance of donating blood,” she shared.

For information about donating blood at Walter Reed, call 301-295-2104, or to sign up to donate, visit the site

“The start of a new year is also synonymous with fresh beginnings and resolutions,” Wallace added. “National Blood Don Month capitalizes on this spirit of renewal, motivating individuals to make a positive impact on the well-being of others. It serves as a reminder that a simple act, like donating blood, can set the tone for a compassionate and altruistic year. Because blood products are used quickly and last a limited time, blood donations are always needed so hospitals, such as Walter Reed, can effectively treat their patients,” she shared.

According to the Red Cross, the entire blood donation process takes about an hour, with the actual donation taking approximately 10 minutes for one pint.

“Whole blood donors can donate up to six times a year,” Wallace said. “Platelet apheresis donors may give every seven days up to 24 times per year.”

Whole blood is frequently given to trauma patients and people undergoing surgery. Apheresis collection of plasma and platelets allows for the donation of the blood components to treat certain illnesses such as sickle cell disease, leukemia, myasthenia gravis, and other blood disorders. “Platelets are a vital element of cancer treatments and organ transplant procedures, as well as other surgical procedures,” according to the Red Cross.

Wallace explained that platelets, or thrombocytes, are the small, colorless cell fragments in blood that form clots and stop or prevent bleeding. “Platelets are made in our bone marrow, the sponge-like tissue inside our bones. Bone marrow contains stem cells that develop into red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.” It takes about two-and-a-half to three hours to donate platelets.

“You must wait at least eight weeks (56 days) between donations of whole blood, and 16 weeks (112 days) between Power Red donations,” Wallace explained.

“Red cells from a Power Red donation are typically given to trauma patients, newborns and emergency transfusions during birth, people with sickle cell anemia, and anyone suffering blood loss,” according to the Red Cross. It typically takes about an hour and a half for a Power Red donation.

Power Red donation, which the Red Cross explains is when a donor “gives a concentrated dose of red cells, the part of the blood used every day for those needing transfusions as part of their care. This type of donation uses an automated process that separates red blood cells from the other blood components, and then safely and comfortably returns plasma and platelets to the donor.”

“According to the Red Cross, only 3 percent of age-eligible people, or about 6.8 million Americans, donate blood every year,” Wallace shared. She added that the top 10 excuses people give for not donating include they are afraid of needles; others are donating enough; blood type is not in demand; previous illnesses; afraid of catching a disease; don’t have enough spare blood to donate; low Hgb and Hct or iron levels; afraid of being deferred; may feel weak after donating; and too busy.”

Wallace assures people that the donation process is safe, and that one blood donation can save up to three lives. “People usually donate because it feels good to help others, and altruism and volunteering have been linked to positive health outcomes, including lower risk for depression and greater longevity. A blood donation is truly an altruistic gift that an individual can give to others in need. In only 45 to 60 minutes, an eligible individual can donate one unit of blood that can separated into four individual components that could help save multiple lives. Consider making a change in their lives by donating blood regularly,” she added.
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