Valentine’s Day is usually filled with candy-filled hearts and flowers, but what if you could give someone a gift that was more profound and longer-lasting? In addition to being Valentine’s Day, February 14th is also National Donor Day. This year, consider giving a gift that could save someone’s life.
Started in 1998 by the now-defunct Saturn Corporation, its United Auto Workers partners, and the support of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Donor Day focuses on five types of donations: blood, platelets, organs, tissues, and marrow.
Of the five, blood donation is the easiest and most common type of donation. The Red Cross makes it easy to locate a blood donation center and either stop in when your schedule allows or to set up a recurring donation. Blood donation generally takes about an hour from the moment you walk in the door to the moment you walk out.
Some simple guidelines include:
- Drink plenty of water the day of your donation
- Wear comfortable clothes with sleeves that can be rolled up
- Eat iron-rich foods (spinach, greens, red meat) in the days leading up to your donation
- Bring a list of medications you are taking
- Bring a state-issued ID
- Consider bringing a friend if it’s your first time
You can donate whole blood every 56 days. The Red Cross has changed its policy to welcome people of all sexual orientations to its donation centers, but there are a few factors that may disqualify you from donating, including travel to certain countries and some illnesses. Check to see if you have any restrictions before going to donate on National Donor Day.
Platelet donations are a bit more involved than simple whole blood donation, but the rewards of this type of donation can be tremendous. In platelet donation, a small amount of blood is drawn at a time (about ¼ of a pint). The platelets are separated from the red blood cells, and the red blood cells are returned to the donor along with saline. A single platelet donation can be enough to help a patient in need, whereas it often takes four to six whole blood donations to help a person in need. A full platelet donation can help anywhere from 12 to 18 patients.
Patients who receive platelets are generally undergoing chemotherapy or radiation and have a severely weakened immune system. Platelets help them not only by bolstering their immune system but also by restricting their exposure to multiple people via different blood donors.
Platelet donations take approximately two hours and are only available at Red Cross blood donation centers. Most centers offer DVDs to pass the time, as it is twice as long as a regular blood donation. Platelets can be donated up to 24 times a year, and plasma can be donated at the same time. Donors can return to regular activities after their donation but should avoid strenuous activity for the remainder of their donation day. National Donor Day would be a great time to donate, taking yourself and your sweetheart out to a relaxing dinner afterwards!
One person can save up to eight lives with their organ donation. This is the ultimate gift that a person and their family can make. When a person dies, either by natural causes or from accident or illness, that person (or a parent or legal guardian for those under 18) can indicate in a will or on their license that they would like to donate their organs. Examples of organs that can be donated are:
More than 120 million people in the U.S. have signed up to be organ donors, opting to give someone a generous, loving gift as their last act. Even so, the list of people waiting on organs is four times as long as the list of available donors. Organ donation is free to the donor and their family. To get started, visit the CDC’s organ donation website or go to your local department of motor vehicles to add the organ donor sticker to your license.
Tissue donation is another post-mortem decision that can save lives. Skin, bones, ligaments, and heart valves are just four types of tissues that are being used in more than one million tissue transplants completed annually in the U.S. A single tissue donation can help 50 patients, many of whom are children.
This type of donation must be initiated within 24 hours of a person’s passing, which is one reason why a pre-existing wish to donate, either a living will or a notation on a driver’s license, can be so important. Hospital, medical examiners, or funeral homes can all contact a local tissue recovery organization, which will then set the process of determining eligibility and potential recipients.
For families grieving their loved ones, this can be a difficult process, but the value of this final gift is immeasurable.
Bone marrow is a type of donation that can be completed while the donor is alive (as is most often the case). National Donor Day is a great time to sign up on Be the Match, a national website that focuses on recruiting donors to join their registry that works with hospitals all across the U.S. Approximately one in 540 registered donors will go on to make a bone marrow donation, but the more people who sign up, the better chance there is of a recipient receiving life-saving bone marrow.
Bone marrow transplant is performed when a person’s bone marrow is destroyed or damaged due to chemotherapy, cancer, or other diseases like sickle cell anemia. Damaged bone marrow can no longer produce red blood cells, and donated bone marrow becomes imperative for treatment.
Once a donor signs up, if they are selected they can expect a straightforward process. The procedure is usually an outpatient one, lasting no more than a day. Donors check into a hospital and are given anesthesia, sometimes a general anesthesia but most often an epidural or partial block to numb the donation areas (while the donor is conscious).
Bone marrow is extracted from the donor’s hip with a hollow needle through a tiny incision that does not require stitches to close. The donor is then monitored while the anesthesia wears off (in approximately two hours) and can then return home.
Because anesthesia is used, there is usually no pain during the procedure, but donors may experience aching, muscle pain, fatigue, bruising, or headache for a few days afterwards.
The best gifts are those given with love. On National Donor Day, honor your love and your life by donating blood or platelets or registering as an organ, tissue, or bone marrow donor. It is truly the gift that lasts forever.