Ways You Can Help Without Giving Money: Donate Blood

M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

Cancer Newsline Audio Podcast Series

Date: June 06, 2009

Duration: 0 / 16:31

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Welcome to Cancer Newsline, a weekly podcast series from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Cancer Newsline helps you stay current with the news on cancer research, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, providing the latest information on reducing your family's cancer risk. I'm your host, Lisa Garvin. Today, we will be talking with Andrea Johnson, who is a community representative for the M.D. Anderson Blood Bank, and we're going to talk about blood donations and the ongoing challenge that M.D. Anderson and other space trying to get blood for patients. Welcome, Andrea.

 

Andrea Johnson:

 

Thank you for having me!

 

Garvin:

 

Tell us a little bit about the challenges you do face on a daily basis at the blood bank.

 

Johnson:

 

Particularly, one of the challenges that we face in all blood bank space right now is summer. Summer is a particular challenge because 25 percent of the blood supply nationally comes from high school students, and because high schools are out of school right now, typically June through August, it's tough for us to have blood drives, to get businesses, churches and groups to host blood drives during these times because of the summer vacations. So this is when you typically see the drop in donations.

 

Garvin:

 

How do you make up for that? I mean I know it…well let's talk about M.D. Anderson's daily need for blood and blood products. What do we go through in a typical day?

 

Johnson:

 

Well cancer, just like any other condition that requires blood, doesn't stop for holidays nor summer vacations. So typically, what we need to do is to continue on recruitment practices. So what we have to do is to schedule more blood drives, encourage more people to come out.

 

Garvin:

 

What sort of--I know that surgery is a big blood user, how many units do we go through a day on a typical day at M.D. Anderson?

 

Johnson:

 

Typically, we transfuse anywhere from 450 to 650 components a day. That averages about 500 platelets a day, 150 red cells daily, and that can be between surgeries and our leukemia and lymphoma patients which are our blood cancers.

 

Garvin:

 

How often, I know we use like a symbol system here in the institution to show, you know, whether we are at high levels, good levels, critical levels of blood, how often are you at critical levels?

 

Johnson:

 

We are at critical levels typically during holidays, typical if there, or it happened to be certain surgery cases that end up using more than…it's kind of hard to tell. There is no necessarily rhyme or reason, it just depends on how the scheduling goes. Just depends on the patient load that our institution has. If every bed is full, then that means that we have more patients that potentially are using blood.

 

Garvin:

 

You had some interesting statistics about the number of people who are eligible versus those who actually give.

 

Johnson:

 

Yes. Nationally, 5 percent of the population donates blood. However, 60 percent are eligible. So that means there is a 55 percent population that can donate blood that chooses not to. And that can be based on several things, fear, ignorance, maybe there's just not a reminder, they don't happen to have a blood drive that happens to be near them, maybe they're in a small town, or maybe they're just not recruited. I personally think that if we could get 10 percent population donating blood, we probably wouldn't even see shortages across the country.

 

Garvin:

 

How many life donors do we see, ones who give blood on a regular basis?

 

Johnson:

 

Here at M.D. Anderson, that's kind of a difficult thing. An average donor can donate up to 6 times a year, and that's basically what the FDA will allow. A whole blood donor is up to 6 times because you can donate every 56 days or basically every 8 weeks. Probably, the national statistic is 1.2 times a year that the donor actually donates. So really, if we could get the average donor to come in 3 or 4 times a year, we'd be doing really well.

 

Garvin:

 

Tell me about the platelet process. I know apheresis is a bit longer.

 

Johnson:

 

Yes.

 

Garvin:

 

So basically, you're taking the platelets and returning the blood back to the body?

 

Johnson:

 

Yes. Apheresis is kind of a broad term which means it's any way that you can donate a specific product. When you donate…let me explain, when you donate whole blood, you are actually donating red cells, plasma and platelets. And what happens with the whole blood is we bring it back to our lab, and we actually separate it into those 3 components, and then the patient is only transfused what they need. A patient is never transfused whole blood. Now, when we collect aphaeresis, that's where we just collect that 1 product, and it can be plasma, platelets, or red cells. So depending on what the product is that we need. So in this case, as you're speaking about platelets, which is what M.D. Anderson uses a tremendous amount, because that's what a lot of our leukemia patients need because a lot of the leukemia patients, they are unable to use their blood does not clot very well, so that to put it simply. So what we do with apheresis is, is they are put on a machine basically that actually does the blood separation right there. So basically, it takes a little bit of the blood out, spins it, and does the separation right there, gives you your red cells and most of your plasma back, and keeps the platelets and a little bit of plasma so that we can actually transfuse it into the patient later. It does take a little bit longer, takes about an hour and a half, but the reason that it takes so long is because it is coming in and out. But, it's better for the patient because it gets tested quicker, it's ready to go. There is…you don't have to take that time of coming back to the lab and getting it all separated, it's a ready-to-go product. When you donate whole blood, it can take 6 to 8 whole blood donations to equal one therapeutic dose of platelets that you can donate on an apheresis machine.

 

Garvin:

 

Tell me about some of the fears that people have, or the barriers that you have for people giving blood.

 

Johnson:

 

They're just scared of needles, that's probably one of the number one, just fear. That's one of the reasons why we actually like to do blood drives at high schools, because if you can get a student in high school to donate blood, you will see them again as an adult. Getting an adult who has never donated blood before, to catch them later is so much harder because they've been holding that fear for so long, to convince them to change is really, really hard. So that's why we like to focus on our high school and our college students, catch them early, then when you see them later, it's no big deal. So that's one of the number 1 fears. Just time, people just sometimes just don't have the time. Sometimes it's just selfishness. Sometimes we're just staying in a society where "If it's not gonna benefit me, I'm not going to do it." And unfortunately, that's something I see a lot of. As a recruiter, I have heard every excuse. There are some that are logical, and I have heard some of the craziest excuses people have had.

 

Garvin:

 

And I know when you see, especially when a policeman is injured, you see all his brethren and sisthren running to donate blood, of course people must realize that not all these blood is going to go that fallen officer.

 

Johnson:

 

Correct.

 

Garvin:

 

So, I mean, do we see these issues of directed donations, I only wanna give my blood to a certain person?

 

Johnson:

 

Every once in a while we see that, but for the most part, most people know that your blood needs to match. They know that their blood doesn't necessarily go directly to the person that needs it. They want to help. When you see a lot of people, whether it's a fallen officer or somebody that has cancer, or someone that has some other disease or disorder that needs blood, they just wanna help. It's a great way to help because it doesn't cost anything. You know, it doesn't matter, especially with the economic times that we're having right now, people are looking for ways to help, they don't have that extra cash. Here's what they can do. They can take the time to donate to somebody. So they're willing to do that. And they know it's gonna help somebody. It may not help their friend, and somebody else, it's not gonna help their friend, but it's gonna help them. So it's kind of a balance. It's going to help somebody. So we also offer, you know, fee credits. So if they donate for that person, it could offer a credit to the cost of their blood bill. So it will help them that way, and it's just to help somebody.

 

Garvin:

 

There's a lot of talk about universal donors with a blood type you really need the most. Explain what you're looking for. Obviously all types, but particular.

Johnson:

 

Right, all types. Well, the most common type is O. So naturally, we have more O patients. You know, I hear that all the time. Well, I have the most common blood, so you don't need it. Well obviously, if you're the most common, then that's the most patients we have. That's what we would need. So O negative is the universal donor, but also that means that's the only type that they can receive. So we would need O negative for those patients. But then the O positive is what the majority of the patients have, then that's what we would need.

 

Garvin:

 

What about rare tapes, like AB and so forth? Are you particularly trying to find those rare blood types?

 

Johnson:

 

We need all types. I mean, it's all patients, they need their specific type of blood, particularly with cancer patients. And blood is more complicated than just their blood type. There are so many other antigens and antibodies that make up blood. There's other things that we have to match, so you don't always know what there could be something else in your blood that could be that perfect match that could help that patient even more.

 

Garvin:

 

Lets run down some of the eligibility requirements, just so people know who's eligible.

 

Johnson:

 

We have 3 basic requirements, and this is across the country because these are FDA guidelines. One is that you have to weigh a minimum of 110 pounds, you must be at least 17 years old, and you must be in good general health, meaning don't come in with a cold or a flu or sneezing.  And so everyone must meet those 3 requirements. Now beyond that, different blood banks do have a few different rules. Now, if you're wanting to donate platelets, you can't be on an aspirin regimen. But, you could donate red cells or whole blood. So beyond that, if you wanna donate blood, my suggestion would be to contact the blood bank in your region just to see if you qualify. But honestly, most people think--there's a lot of people out there that think because they're on medicine that they're not eligible, and it's really not true. If you are diabetic, you can donate blood. If you have high cholesterol, you can donate blood. If you have high blood pressure and it is controlled by medication, you can donate blood. So, there are a lot of things out there that people will do what I call self defer, without actually looking in to see if they're eligible when they really are.

 

Garvin:

 

Any final thoughts on the whole blood donation process, Andrea?

 

Johnson:

 

I would just really like to encourage people to really get out there and take that, 30 to 45 minutes to save somebody's life. You have no idea what it means to that patient that is sitting in that hospital. It is so hard. I look at these cancer patients here at our hospital, especially the ones that have leukemia and lymphoma, and not that it is so hard that they're fighting that cancer, but they are so dependent on a complete stranger for the goodness of their heart to donate blood to save that family's life. And it's just the most empowering thing I think it could be for the individual just to go out and just know that you're doing something to save somebody's life to help them to fight that cancer or to be able to give that person another day.

 

Garvin:

 

Great. Andrea, thank you so much for talking with us today. And please, those of you out there, give blood. It saves more than one life, one pint of blood saves up to 3 lives. So, give blood when you can and as often as you can. If you have questions about anything you've heard today on Cancer Newsline, contact askMDAnderson at 1-877-MDA-6789, or online at www.mdanderson.org/ask. Thank you for listening to this episode of Cancer Newsline. Tune in next week for the next podcast in our series.

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