24/7 Need For Blood

Speech #7 - March 29, 2007

Madame Toastmaster, fellow members and honored guests.

I don't recall the exact date of my first blood donation, but I do know it was sometime in the early 1970s. Since that time, I've donated over 100 times, and will continue to do so as long as I am able, for blood is desperately needed around the clock - 24/7. Donating blood is an important part of my life, and a legacy that I've passed on to my sons, who are also regular donors.

Although some may envision Steve Martin's portrayal of Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber on Saturday Night Live as the beginnings of the first blood bank, the practice of banking blood for use in transfusions actually began in the mid-twentieth century. But before that, through research and experimentation, and much of it deadly, the process of safe collection and storage of blood was developed.

As far back as 1492, blood transfusions were advised. In one of the first documented cases, Pope Innocent VIII, after suffering a stroke, was the recipient of blood, but because methods were crude, he did not survive. In fact, it wasn't until 1818 that the first successful human to human transfusion took place, and even non-blood elements, like cow's and goat's milk, were being used in the late 19th century. The discovery of the blood groups A, B and O in 1901 by Dr Karl Landsteiner paved the way for safer transfusions, and by 1907 blood typing and cross matching were being used to exclude incompatible mixtures. In 1940, the discovery of the Rh factor system made transfusion reactions very rare, making the storage and use of blood both practical and quite safe for the first time.

In 1932, the first facility functioning as a Blood bank was established in a Leningrad Russia hospital and in 1937, the Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Illinois established the first hospital Blood bank in the United States. Within a few years, hospital and community Blood banks began to be established across the United States. The last 30 - 40 years resulted in refinements of testing techniques, and research continues today to make the blood supply as safe as it can be.

Sacramento's blood bank, BloodSource, is actually comprised of 15 collection centers throughout Northern and Central California, from Redding to Merced, Vacaville to Placerville. Established in 1948, under the Sacramento Medical Foundation name, they opened their first center under the water tower at Alhambra and J St. Their web site at bloodsource.org is a veritable fount of information regarding the donation process, as well as inspirational stories from donors, recipients and volunteers.

During the Katrina disaster in 2005, Blood centers were closed in the hurricane area until stabilization was regained. BloodSource received multiple requests and supported blood needs in the New Orleans area as well as parts of Mississippi and Florida. However, BloodSource's first obligation was to local communities and patients who receive care in Northern and Central California area hospitals due to the anticipated increase in accidents during the Labor Day holiday weekend.

For many years, I donated at both the J Street and Stockton Boulevard centers, until the Department of Water Resources established its regular schedule of mobile blood drives for the Resources Building approximately every 8 weeks. Since then, I have been privileged to work with the past four chairpersons in developing and maintaining the registration web site. DWR schedules six drives at headquarters each year, and three additional drives at the Joint Operations Center. About 400 pints are collected over all drives, and each drive usually introduces a few first time donors to the joys of donating. The DWR drive set its own record following Hurricane Katrina. While the normal goal for a drive is 65 pints, 89 pints were collected at the September 6, 2005 DWR Blood Drive.

The basic requirements for giving blood are fairly easy to meet. As long as you are at least 17 years old (16 with parental consent), weigh at least 110 lbs. and are in generally good health, you're probably eligible. A simple questionnaire and a finger stick to check for sufficient red blood cells further establish your eligibility. A 5-7 minute donation process followed by a 10 minute rest period with a snack, and you're on your way.

I don't recall the exact date of my first blood donation, but I do know the next, a week from today in the Resources Auditorium. Will you be there?

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