How to save a life

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By Christopher Ullyott

By Christopher Ullyott

Fortunately, you don’t have to learn how to jump from speeding vehicles, crack sophisticated computer codes or know how to paralyze attackers with a few strategic pokes. Rather, saving lives can actually involve just a bit of paperwork, a half-hour of rest, and even your choice of cookies.

Blood donation remains an easy way to invest in the well-being of others and is in fact gaining necessity.

For over 60 years, blood transfusion has been providing second chances for vast numbers of people, from newborns to the elderly. Patients with serious diseases, abnormal blood conditions or those in trauma are able to have this raw material of life replenished when death would have otherwise been imminent. Donors help make this happen every time they give blood to their local blood bank.

Though there are some willing and eager donors in Southern California, the region still has a difficult time keeping this resource available. According to collections trainers Sherry Gutierrez and friend Christine Cooksey of the Blood Bank of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, only about 3 percent of eligible citizens in the Inland Empire actually donate.

Blood is possibly the most essential component to a human being. It provides for the transport of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, keeping the organs functioning. As patients are expecting more and more from their doctors, having extra blood available is often a requirement before many medical procedures even begin. Thanks to recent medical breakthroughs, failing hearts can now be repaired, cancerous tumors can be removed, and near-fatal wounds can be clotted and healed. During operations like these, donated blood sits in the room, waiting to be used in case the patient needs more.

Without blood donors, the odds may begin stacking against the survival of those in need.

Gutierrez and Cooksey believe that, with more knowledge of the need for blood and a better understanding of how it is used, more eligible citizens may step up to donate.

“Most people think that blood is really only needed just after a major catastrophe,” Gutierrez said, “but we need blood every day.”

Just after the 9/11 attacks, the blood banks in New York were in fact overwhelmed with donations; they actually received too much blood. Since red blood cells only have a shelf life of about one month, much of the blood in New York had to be thrown away, according to the documentary film “Red Gold.”

On a daily basis, American hospitals use about 64,000 pints of blood, equal to about the same number of individual donations. Quoted in “Red Gold,” Karl Kreiger, a heart surgeon from the New York Presbyterian Hospital, said, “We can’t proceed with our operations unless we know that we have blood available. So anytime there’s a shortage in the metropolitan area, all surgeons are acutely aware of it and concerned about it.”

Donated blood is really not a commodity to be allotted for specific surgeries, it is more of a type of insurance plan that doctors have during operations. Whether or not this backup exists is largely dependent on donors. Should a widespread health emergency-such as an epidemic or a large fire-occur locally, the death toll of such an event would increase if hospitals were experiencing a shortage of available blood at the time.

The term “shortage” seems to be most often attributed to a large-scale occasional lack of some other commodity. But in California, the word is not exactly seldom heard concerning blood. During the summer and winter seasons, supply typically drops, since high school and college students are out of school and not participating in on-campus blood drives. Also, according to Cooksey, most people during November, December and January are on either on vacation or otherwise not planning to donate.

Since the Blood Bank of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties currently serves as much as forty medical facilities year-round, regular donors in the local area are precious resources for the community.

Ruth Jacquet, a Riverside representative for the Blood Bank, shared a few words during a blood drive held at RCC on April 25.

“We shouldn’t have to wait for the Red Cross,” said Jacquet, speaking of imported blood. “[The Inland Empire] should be a self-sufficient.”

“Last December, the numbers were truly scary,” she said. “The shortage was relieved when 16-year-olds became eligible to donate with parental consent on January 1, but more donors are always needed. At any time, any one of us could use a transfusion.”

To donate blood in Riverside or San Bernardino, a person must generally be 17 or older. (16-year-olds have just recently been allowed donate, however, with written consent from a parent or guardian). Donors must also be in good health, weigh over 110 pounds, and not active in any high-risk sexual activity or have any infectious diseases. Those who have had a tattoo done in the past year cannot donate, though recent body piercings are allowed as long as there are no signs of infection.

When going to donate, it’s best to have had a good meal and plenty of fluids beforehand. Resist intense physical activity and caffeinated beverages just prior to donation, since a person with a pulse of over 100 beats per minute will be asked not to donate. It’s also best to know specific dates of any trips taken out of the United States, as diseases more common in other countries-such as malaria-have been known to cause blood problems.

Overall, donation takes about 45 minutes and involves four processes. First, donors are asked to fill out a health history questionnaire, which can take about 15 minutes. Second, blood specialists will give you a “mini-physical” to check your pulse, blood pressure, and test a sample of your blood for iron levels. This sample is taken from a small prick of one of your fingers (if any pain is felt at this stage, it will be short-lived). Third, you’ll be asked to lie down and choose the arm from which you’d like the blood to be drawn. The needle used is sterile and small. Again, any pain is much like a pinch and will be brief.

It takes about fifteen minutes to draw one pint. during which you’ll be asked to regularly clench the hand of the arm you’re using. Blood specialists are prepared to help those who may become anxious or light-headed during donation.

When one pint has been collected, you’ll lastly be given a bandage for your arm and be shown to an area where free snacks and juice are available, to help aid your body as it starts to make new blood. Since dizziness may occur just after donating, you’ll be asked not to leave this rest area until after about fifteen minutes.

After leaving, it is wise to drink plenty of fluids and to have a restful 24 hours without much physical activity. Your body begins making new blood immediately, but you may return to donate again after eight weeks.

During the recent blood drive at RCC, reactions from students who donated were very positive, even for first-time donors. 20-year-old Michael Jones said the process was easy for his first time, and that he plans to be donating in the future. Alicia Washington, also 20, gave blood for her first time and was glad she did. A volunteer at a hospital in Riverside County, she said, “I see how much it’s needed; I’m always seeing someone getting a blood transfusion-this should be advertised more.”

Those who often give at blood drive events can take their service a step further by making plans to visit the Blood Bank every eight weeks. Platelet donation, called platelet aphaeresis, takes about twice as long as a normal donation and can be something experienced donors can also try.

Though giving blood doesn’t routinely involve cash or prizes, the vast majority of donors feel good after donating. One donation can indeed mean another shot at life for another person.

The story of Paul DiLorenzo proves that blood is needed on a daily basis for the community.

osed with a rare blood disorder called thalassemia at age 1, he learned early on that his body was not capable of producing healthy blood cells like most other people. To stay alive, DiLorenzo receives a blood transfusion every three weeks, after which he says he feels energized and ready to take on the month ahead. Now a college student in his mid-20’s, it is estimated that DiLorenzo has used over 2000 units, or 250 gallons of blood throughout his young life.

In a story he wrote for publication in 2006, DiLorenzo chose to thank blood donors by saying that he owes many of his life’s experiences to them.

“You were there when I got my first blood transfusion at the age of one, and there to see a smile come across my mom’s face, because her son wasn’t pale anymore,” he wrote. “And most importantly, you were there when I met the most beautiful woman in the world, Melissa. You were there with us on our wedding day, as she walked down the aisle in her beautiful white dress. You were there when I said, ‘I do!'”

Without blood donors-yes, the community may not have as much as the hospitals would like-but in reality, there are those like Paul DiLorenzo that actually depend on it for survival.

Finally, anyone at anytime can come into a stage of life that demands extra blood; it may be you or someone you know. Riverside County needs regular blood donors now and always.

The Blood Bank of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties is available to answer questions and to give updates on upcoming blood drives visiting your area. If interested, call the Blood Bank at 1-800-879-4484, log onto, or visit the building, located less than one mile east of the 215 freeway off of Orange Show Road in San Bernardino.

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