Donate blood, save a life

young woman lies on her back looking at her cell phone while donating blood


In this article:

  • One in six Americans will need a blood transfusion in their lifetime. You, or someone you care about, could be one of them.

  • The area’s blood supply declines dramatically during the summer months but the need for blood products such as whole blood and platelets remains high.

  • Type O blood and platelets are always needed.

Donating blood typically takes about an hour, but its impact on the person who receives it could last a lifetime. Someone in the United States needs blood every two seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And just one pint can potentially save three lives.

Blood products such as whole blood and platelets are used in many ways to help people in need. They are often vital for life-saving trauma care or surgeries. A wide range of issues, including cancer, bleeding disorders, organ transplants, and immune system disorders, require donated blood for effective treatment.

“One in six Americans will receive a blood transfusion at some point in their lives; it could be you or someone you love. Donating blood means that the people who desperately need it will have access to it – and a better chance at survival,” explained Curt Bailey, CEO of Bloodworks Northwest, in an early 2022 interview. with the Swedish blog.

Bloodworks Northwest provides blood supply to 95% of hospitals in the Pacific Northwest – including Swedish. We have proudly partnered with them to ensure our patients receive the care they need.

Summer’s annual blood shortage

Many blood banks experience a drastic decline in the summer due to vacations and overcrowded seasonal schedules. Most blood drive days occur at schools, which close for the summer, making the situation even worse.

Typically, blood banks aim to have five to seven days’ worth of blood products to supply a region’s hospital. That helps cover the typical need of the community while providing a buffer for any unusual days when demand may be higher.

In the interview, Curt pointed out two specific shortages in the region – type O whole blood and platelets. These two blood products are critical in caring for patients in many situations, including those experiencing traumatic injury or those recovering from cancer.

“Type O blood is always hard to keep in stock because it can be transfused into most patients,” he explains. “That’s really important if there isn’t a perfect match or you don’t have time to get a blood type on the recipient.”

Platelets are also hard to keep in stock because of their short shelf life. “Platelets are only good for 5 to 7 days after donation. Whole blood, in comparison, lasts for about 45 days. It’s important to make sure we always have enough platelets available since they don’t ‘keep’ for as long.”

Curt encourages type O donors to make an appointment and for other donors to consider donating platelets to keep our region’s blood supply healthy.

Types of blood products

Several different types of blood products can be donated. Here are the four most common:

  • Whole blood refers to the blood that flows through your veins. It may be given to anyone who has lost significant blood during surgery or after a trauma.
  • Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to cells throughout your body. When separated from whole blood, they can be used to help treat anemia.
  • Platelets help your blood clot. They are collected during a special process that uses an apheresis machine or separated from a whole blood donation. They are often given to cancer patients or people undergoing organ transplant surgery.
  • Plasma is the liquid portion of your blood. It helps maintain blood pressure, supports immunity, encourages clotting, and carries electrolytes to your muscles. Plasma is collected during whole blood donation and then separated from the cells and platelets in the blood. It’s used in treatments for a variety of diseases and conditions.

Who is eligible to donate blood?

In general, you can donate blood every 56 days if you:

  • Are in good health.
  • Are at least 18 years old. Some restrictions apply to 16- and 17-year-old donors.
  • Weigh at least 110 pounds.

Some health conditions or medications may prevent you from donating blood. Check your eligibility before scheduling an appointment.

The standard measures used to screen blood donor eligibility prevent you from donating if you may have COVID-19. To further increase the safety of everyone involved, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration updated its guidance earlier this year to better outline who can give blood and when.

Contact your physician if you have any questions or concerns about the health requirements.

How can I help?

Make a difference by donating blood. It doesn’t take much time and it could save someone’s life. It’s easy:

Find a doctor

If you have questions about donating blood, contact the primary care departmnet at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Additional resources 

Donating blood saves lives: Make a Difference Today

Get Involved: Donate Blood. Save Lives.

Blood Safety Basics

Bloodworks Northwest

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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About the Author

The Swedish Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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