The Medical Minute: Every day is a good day to give the gift of life

By Mark Stout

The life of a unit of packed red blood cells is exciting and can lead to saving the life of a critically ill or injured patient. Packed red blood cells begin in a donor, free-floating through his veins and arteries until the donation is made. Afterward, the packed red blood cells are separated from the platelets and plasma, which is frozen immediately. The platelets and plasma are used to help people who have low platelet counts and bleeding problems, including hemophilia. The packed red blood cells are run through a variety of tests (Hepatitis tests, HIV tests and many others) to make sure they are healthy enough for an ill or injured patient, before they are stored in a cooler for up to 42 days.

Type O blood is the universal blood type and, of all eight blood types, is the only one that can be transfused to patients with the other blood types. This leads to Type O blood being in high demand and accounts for half of the blood ordered by hospitals in the central Pennsylvania region. Almost 40 percent of the population has Type O positive blood. Type O negative is preferred for accident victims and babies that need exchange transfusions but only 7 percent of the population is O negative.

There are many reasons to donate blood, so this January, during Blood Donor Awareness Month, take a few moments to make the call and schedule an appointment to donate. Every day is a good day to donate blood -- you never know whose life it might help to save. To schedule an appointment at the Penn State Hershey Blood Donor Center, call 717-531-8232.

Mark Stout, PA-C, is the bone marrow transplant coordinator at Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute.

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Last Updated January 19, 2011