The Rewards of Blood Donation, from a Longtime Donor

By Maria Marabito

June 14, Flag Day, is marked on most Americans’ calendars. But did you know that June 14 is also World Blood Donor Day? This observance, a joint initiative of the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, was created in 2005 for two reasons: to raise awareness of the global need for blood, and to thank blood donors for their lifesaving gifts.

Blood donation is a selfless, honorable act. Blood can’t be manufactured; it can only come from volunteer donors. This year’s theme is “Give blood and keep the world beating.” In the United States alone, about 6.8 million people donate lifesaving blood. Christina McCarthy is one of them.

McCarthy, a clinical assistant at a pain management office, has been giving blood regularly with the Red Cross for about six years now. Like many blood donors, she was inspired to do her part because of a family connection. Her grandfather, who passed away in 2013, had heart issues that landed him in the hospital on a regular basis. He received many transfusions as part of his care, which motivated McCarthy and her family to start donating themselves.

Photo courtesy of Christina McCarthy

McCarthy’s mother was the first in the family to get the ball rolling. Once Christina began working in the medical field, she realized just how important — and how easy— blood donations are. Her sister and some coworkers have since donated as well. 

“I recruited a couple of coworkers for the last blood drive I went to; two women went with me, and now they’re starting to do it on a semi-regular basis as well,” McCarthy says.

The feel-good rewards are immediate, and you’ll be plenty pleased with yourself. But for an extra shot of satisfaction, you can actually find out where your blood donation went: Just use the Red Cross blood donor app. “I like how the Red Cross  tells you when they’ve processed your blood, and they send you an email telling you where it’s going. I think that’s really helpful,” McCarthy says. “I know my last couple of donations have gone to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, so that makes me feel really good.”

The app not only allows you to schedule your donations but also keeps track of them and lets you know when it’s safe to donate again. “I donate every time my app reminds me, so every 48 days or something like that,” McCarthy says. [Editor’s note: you can donate whole blood every 56 days.]

If you’re nervous, McCarthy insists that the needles aren’t bad at all. (New, sterile needles are used and discarded after one use.) You’ll even be given a free mini-physical at your appointment — temperature, blood pressure, pulse and hemoglobin — to ensure that you’re healthy enough to donate that day. But don’t go on an empty stomach: McCarthy says she passed out the first time, because she didn’t eat enough beforehand. (She recommends a large meal.) That didn’t stop her from going again and turning it into a routine. 

Why give blood? “It is one thing you can do that can literally save someone else’s life, and it’s free for you to do and it takes not even a half hour, so why wouldn’t you do it?” McCarthy says.  [Editor’s note: please allow for 1 hour when you schedule a blood donation appointment.]

In fact, a single donation can potentially save up to three lives.  

And in case you were wondering, the pandemic hasn’t stopped the Red Cross from collecting blood. “They’ve been doing a good job at staggering the appointment times so there aren’t too many people at once. It definitely wouldn’t stop me from donating,” McCarthy says.

There are four blood and platelet donation centers and many blood drive collection sites within the five counties of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Finding a location and time is easy: Just use the Red Cross’s online blood drive finder. You can also use the Red Cross blood donor app to schedule and manage appointments. Depending on the type of donation (whole blood, power red, or platelet), you can donate as often as every 56 days. Today’s your day to save a life… or three!

Primary image description: an illustration, with the American Red Cross logo above the words “World Blood Donor Day” in white letters on a dark blue background. Next to the logo and words is a bright red drop with a water-color rendering of the world inside it.

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