Giving Blood

If you are 16 or older, you may be able to donate blood.

NOAH ADDIS/STAR LEDGER/CORBIS

Donating blood is easy and can help save lives. Here’s what you need to know about being a donor.

Did you know that one pint of your blood can help save three people’s lives? Every three seconds, somebody in the United States—a victim of a car accident, a person with a blood disorder, a patient in surgery—needs a blood transfusion. That blood comes from healthy donors.

If you are 16 or older, you may be able to donate blood. That’s the minimum age to become a donor—with permission from a parent or guardian—in 32 states and in Puerto Rico. In the remaining states, you must be 17 years old to donate. (To find out the age requirement in your state, call the American Red Cross at 1-800-RED CROSS.)

About 4 million Americans donate blood each year through the American Red Cross. Of those donors, 16 percent are teens ages 16 to 18. “Teenagers are a very committed donor group,” says Dr. Anne Eder, executive medical director for the American Red Cross, which provides about 40 percent of the U.S. blood supply.

The Process

Donating blood takes only about an hour. The technician will ask you questions to make sure you are eligible to donate. Reasons that disqualify someone from donating include their having an infectious disease such as HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), having a low blood count, or having gotten a tattoo in the previous 12 months.

Next, the technician will take your temperature and check your blood count, blood pressure, and pulse. He or she will then insert a needle into your arm to collect a pint of your blood, which takes about 10 minutes. When it’s over, you’ll be given water or juice and snacks.

The purpose of the food is to replenish your body. Some people can get light-headed or may even faint after giving blood. That’s why it’s important to prepare for your donation, according to Eder, by getting a good night’s sleep, eating breakfast, and drinking a lot of water. You should also take it easy after donating blood.

Tara Palmer, 18, of Big Rapids, Michigan, has donated twice. “It feels really good to know that I’ve helped save lives,” she says. “I hate needles, but I tell myself that a little pinch isn’t that bad when I’m helping people.”

Tara plans to give blood again as soon as she can. People are allowed to donate blood every 56 days. “Repeat donors are the most reliable source of the blood supply for the nation,” Eder says.

To learn more about donating blood and to find a donation center or blood drive near you, go to www.redcrossblood.org/students.

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