Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. Someone needed a blood product as you read that sentence. Blood is essential for surgeries, cancer treatment, chronic illnesses, and traumatic injuries. Whether a patient receives whole blood, red cells, platelets or plasma, lifesaving care starts with one person making a generous donation.
On 14 June of every year – the birthday of the Austrian physician who discovered blood groups – countries around the world celebrate World Blood Donor Day (WBDD). Established in 2004 as one of only eight medical observances supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), the event serves to raise awareness for the need of safe blood and blood products and to thank blood donors for their voluntary, life-saving gifts.
History of World Blood Donor Day
Blood donation dates back to the 17th century. The medical practitioners of the time knew blood was vital to life and losing too much of it would have tragic consequences for the patient. Experimentation began, and a whole new breed of heroes was born – those that contribute their blood so that others may live.
The first transfusions were done using poorly understood mechanisms and little science, resulting in some rather tragic results. Stronger science emerged as Richard Lower became the first to examine blood circulation and discovered ways to stop blood clotting. While only working with animals, he managed to drain the blood off of a medium sized dog and then transfuse the blood of a larger mastiff into the smaller animal. Both dogs recovered with no appreciable ill effects. He gained great notoriety for his efforts and was asked to speak on and teach this technique to the Royal Society.
There were some odd beliefs about blood back then, and the first human transfusion involved putting the blood of a sheep into a patient who was suffering from a mild form of insanity. In 1667, Jean-Baptiste Denis, physician to King Louis XIV, thought perhaps the blood of so gentle a creature might help calm him. The act of transferring animal blood into patients was strongly questioned by the highly superstitious and morally rigid authorities of the time, and the practice was outlawed. Transfusion vanished for almost 150 years.
In 1818, an obstetrician brought blood transfusions back into useful medical technology, replacing the blood of a woman who had hemorrhaged terribly after giving birth. He started publishing works on how it was done. Throughout his life, he performed 10 transfusions, 5 of which saved the lives of the recipients.
In 1901, Karl Landsteiner, the Austrian physician on whose birthday we mark WBDD, discovered the first human blood groups, ensuring transfusion would become a safer practice. By performing experiments in which he mixed blood samples taken from his staff, Landsteiner discovered blood groups A, B and O and established the basic principals of ABO compatibility. In 1907, an American surgeon, Reuben Ottenberg, suggested that patient and donor blood should be grouped and cross matched before a blood transfusion procedure.
World Blood Donor Day celebrates the hard work and daring of these early medical professionals and donors and recognizes the efforts they put into developing a technology that saves so many lives today.
Blood Supply Statistics
The Red Cross supplies about 40% of the United States’ blood and blood components, all from generous volunteer donors. Still, supply can’t always meet demand – only about 10% of eligible people donate blood yearly. Each new donor helps meet patient needs.
- Each year, an estimated 6.8 million people in the U.S. donate blood.
- 13.6 million whole blood and red blood cells are collected in the U.S. in a year.
- About 45% of people in the U.S. have Group O (positive or negative) blood; the proportion is higher among Hispanics (57%) and African Americans (51%).
- Type O negative red cells can be given to patients of all blood types. Because only 7% of people in the U.S. are type O negative, it’s always in great demand and often in short supply.
- Type AB positive plasma can be transfused to patients of all blood types. Since only 3% of people in the U.S. have AB positive blood, this plasma is usually in short supply.
- Red blood cells must be used within 42 days (or less).
- Platelets must be used within just 5 days.
Blood Needs & Blood Supply
- 1 donation can potentially save up to 3 lives.
- Every 2 seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.
- Nearly 21 million blood products are transfused each year.
- Less than 38 percent of the population is eligible to give blood or platelets.
- Blood donors can give every 56 days. Platelet donors can give every 7 days.
- Blood and platelets cannot be manufactured; they can only come from volunteer donors.
- Adults have around 10 pints of blood in their bodies. About 1 pint is given during a donation.
- Platelets, critical for cancer patients, must be transfused within 5 days of donation.
- Only 7% of people in the U.S. have the universal blood type, O negative.
- The Red Cross began collecting blood donations for patients in 1940.
- The Red Cross holds about 500 blood drives every day.
Facts About Blood Needs
- Nearly 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed daily in the U.S.
- Approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the U.S.
- Nearly 21 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S.
- The average red blood cell transfusion is approximately 3 pints.
- The blood type most often requested by hospitals is type O
- A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.
- Sickle cell disease affects 90,000 to 100,000 people in the U.S. About 1,000 babies are born with the disease each year. Sickle cell patients can require blood transfusions throughout their lives.
- According to the American Cancer Society, about 1.7 million people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in 2017. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.
How to Celebrate World Blood Donor Day
Transfusion of blood and blood products helps save millions of lives every year. It can help patients suffering from life-threatening conditions live longer and with a higher quality of life and supports complex medical and surgical procedures. It also has an essential, life-saving role in maternal and perinatal care. Access to safe and sufficient blood and blood products can help reduce rates of death and disability due to severe bleeding during delivery and after childbirth.
In many countries, there is not an adequate supply of safe blood, and blood services face the challenge of making sufficient blood available, while also ensuring its quality and safety. An adequate supply can only be assured through regular donations by voluntary unpaid blood donors. The WHO’s goal is for all countries to obtain all their blood supplies from voluntary unpaid donors by 2020. In 2014, 60 countries have their national blood supplies based on 99-100% voluntary unpaid blood donations, with 73 countries still largely dependent on family and paid donors.
The best way to celebrate World Blood Donor Day is to go out and give blood! There’s a powerful need for blood of all types, and there’s rarely enough of it to go around. Blood Donors save lives every day by giving of themselves so accident victims and those in need of transfusions or replacement during surgeries might live.
This year’s WWBD Theme is: “Be there for someone else. Give blood. Share life”. Just a single contribution now will help, so get out and give!