The Blood Matters Blog ·

You Can Save Lives!

What a Blood Emergency Means and How to Help


Have you ever dreamed of being a superhero? Here’s a good way to start: every pint of blood someone donates saves as many as three lives. Every two seconds, someone needs blood, a product which has no substitute and must come from a donor. There’s no such thing as synthetic or manufactured blood, which means volunteers who donate literally save lives.

What kind of lives might you save, you may be wondering? All kinds. Infants, children and adults from every walk of life can find themselves in need of a transfusion in the space of a heartbeat. All it takes is one diagnosis, one car accident, one emergency surgery or one unexpected injury and someone’s recovery or survival will come down to the kindness and generosity of blood donors.

Take little Opal Rose, for example. In her case, it was disease that nearly took her life. This tiny girl struggled for three years with acute flaccid myelitis, a rare neurologic condition that causes muscle and reflex weakness, so much so that her three sweet siblings prayed every day for Opal to feel better and come home from the hospital soon. Her parents still weep, partly in gratitude and partly still from the raw emotion of it all, when they talk about Opal Rose’s illness and recovery.

Her mom says it this way: “It’s humbling to witness her getting to do things other kids get to do. We take her to swim lessons. We take her to church classes…things that at one point we weren’t sure were ever going to happen.”

On the day we caught up with Opal Rose and her family, they were at Frontier City for a blood drive, and to enjoy a family outing. This sweet child went from being confined to a hospital bed to shrieking with laughter as she and her mom rode the Billy’s Frog Hopper ride. Fifteen blood donors from across the state saved her life and gave her childhood back.

Debbi Toews had been told for years she had asthma. Turns out, asthma had never been the problem. As an adult, her symptoms got worse. She was referred to a cardiologist who said her two top heart valves were not working properly. She had them replaced in December 2020. During surgery, Debbi used seven units of red blood cells, platelets and plasma provided by donors. “You don’t ever know whose life you are saving… I mean, how do you thank somebody for that? After I donated once, I started being a blood donor, and I see, now, a lot of miracles that happen with a blood donation,” Debbi says.

As a child, Carrington fell from a playground playset, breaking her arm and severing her brachial artery. She required two transfusions. Her survival, like those of many others, was only possible thanks to Oklahoma blood donors. Ten years after the accident, Carrington proudly graduated from high school as valedictorian of her class, and is planning for college, a prospect that she finds exciting and a little scary. As a teen and young woman, she enjoyed playing sports and serving as a page at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Carrington knows she got lucky. “If there wasn’t that blood on the shelf, I wouldn’t be here today. It kind of changed me for the good,” she says. “It made me realize how lucky people get – that people have donated their time and their blood.”

Keith's life was saved by blood donations after a farming accident. On a seemingly ordinary day, Keith parked his truck, which had been loaded with 2,000 pounds of cattle feed, on a downhill grade and got out to unlock a gate and feed his cattle. Realizing something was wrong, he tried to enter the driver’s side door and the truck rolled on top of him. His pelvis was crushed by the truck’s axle. He also suffered a collapsed lung, ten broken ribs and a shattered hip. He began receiving blood transfusions in the Medi-flight helicopter ride to the hospital. In all, he received 19 transfusions. When Keith talks about his recovery, and the community that came together to help him work his farm, his eyes well up. His family and friends held a blood drive and 27 people were able to give. “It’s a humbling situation…I’m so thankful,” he says.

Blood and blood products like plasma and platelets are in short supply. It’s a crisis, but one you can do something about. Here’s the skinny on how to donate blood, plasma and platelets.

The most common donation is whole blood. You can donate a pint of whole blood every 56 days, and it takes about an hour. There are three phases to donating blood. First, each donor receives, in essence, a ‘mini-physical,’ to make sure that donated blood is the healthiest possible. During this part, you’ll fill out a confidential medical history, have a brief physical exam (you blood pressure, pulse and temperature will be checked), and your hemoglobin level will be checked with a quick finger stick. After you’re cleared to donate, you’ll be placed in a comfy chair.

The actual blood donation only takes ten minutes or so. You sit or lie back in a reclining chair with your arm on an armrest. A tourniquet is placed on your arm to make your veins easier to see. It also helps you fill the pint blood bag more quickly. After cleaning the skin on the inside of your elbow, the phlebotomist will insert a thin, sterile, new needle into your vein, which is attached to a tube and the blood bag. As you open and close your fist a few times, the bag fills. After your bag is full, your arm is bandaged and it’s on to the observation area where you rest and enjoy cookies, chips, sodas, water and juice for 15 minutes or so. Then you’re free to go.

Plasma can also be donated. It’s the liquid part of blood. You can donate plasma every 28 days. If your blood type is AB, you’re ideal for plasma donation because your plasma can be transfused into anyone, with any blood type. It carries nutrients and red blood cells to the areas of the body where they’re needed. Plasma is used to treat people with clotting disorders, burn victims and those who’ve experienced trauma. It takes about two hours to donate plasma. During a plasma donation, your blood is removed and spun through a machine to separate the plasma. After the plasma is collected, the remaining blood parts are put back into your body.

Donating platelets is especially crucial for a couple of reasons. It’s got a very short shelf life. Platelets can only be used within a five-day window of being collected. The good news is that you can donate platelets as often as every seven days. It takes about two hours to donate, during which time blood is removed, whizzed through a machine, and returned sans platelets. The whole time, you’ll enjoy snacks and drinks and even an individual television to keep you occupied.

What are platelets? They’re tiny, disk shaped fragments of blood cells essential for normal blood clotting. Cancer patients and babies born without clotting factors are some of the people who need platelets the most.

Ideal candidates for platelet donation must weigh at least 110 pounds. Women who have never been pregnant and men are better candidates than women who have been pregnant due to a type of antibody women who’ve been pregnant are more likely to carry.

Pro tips:

  • If you’re donating platelets, don’t take aspirin for two days before your appointment.
  • Fashionable blood donors already know: wear a shirt with sleeves that can be rolled up above your elbows, or a short-sleeve or sleeveless top.
  • After your donation, don’t drink alcohol for 24 hours.
  • Bring a friend! Lend each other support, have a nice catch-up chat, and save lives at the same time!
  • Drink plenty of water the day before you donate and the day of. Eat heartily before you donate. Your meal(s) should include plenty of protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
  • On the day of your donation, drink extra water – aim for 16 extra ounces.
  • For the rest of the day, don’t do any heavy lifting or exercise. If the needle stick starts to bleed, apply pressure and raise your arm straight up for 10 minutes or until the bleeding stops.
  • Keep your bandage on for a few hours after you donate.
  • Tell everyone about your donation! You may start a life-saving trend among your friends.

Call 877-340-8777 or click HERE to find a community blood drive or donor center near you today.

Thanks to our friends at INTEGRIS Health for putting this story together.