Thursday, June 17, 2010

Donating Blood: Denied!

I just returned from an attempt to do a good deed, and instead of feeling fulfilled, I feel rejected: today I learned I'm not eligible to donate blood and that may not change for the rest of my life. I'm the perfect candidate, I thought. How could they turn ME away? The reason was one I would have never considered.

This all started when I heard of the blood shortage in Knoxville last week. My husband asked, "Aren't you O negative, the universal donor?" "That's what I was told the last time I donated blood," I replied. This is a big deal since only 6.6% of the population is O negative, and anyone can receive that blood type.

However, I haven't tried to donate blood for 15 years. The last time I tried, my blood clotted too quickly and they were not able to get enough to fill a bag. Result: they had to throw 2/3 of a bag of blood--MY BLOOD--into the trash. It was devastating at the time. Since I had successfully donated in high school, I didn't know if this was a rare occurrence or a condition that could happen again.

I've since been testing for a clotting disorder, and it was negative. Since the last seven years I've either been pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or recovering from pregnancies and miscarriages, donating blood has not been a priority. That changed two days ago when I heard the news that the 3-year-old son of a friend of mine was just diagnosed with leukemia. He's Devin's age, and the news hit me like a bomb. They are optimistic, but he'll be getting treatment for the next 3 years! How would I handle the news if this happened to one of my children? I wept and prayed for their family.

Through Care Pages set up by East Tennessee Children's Hospital, friends and family have been able to get the latest on his treatment and prognosis. We were advised that we could donate blood as a "replacement donation" at the Medic Regional Blood Center. My blood wouldn't go directly to him, but by giving his name and the hospital where he's being seen, my donation would help offset the screening costs of the units he would require. I had been nudged twice in one week to donate blood. Now was the time to overcome my fears.

Before driving downtown, I did scan the list for donor eligibility. I've never done drugs, been paid for sex, or had any major illnesses. I'm good, I thought. The screening nurse was practically giddy with excitement when I mentioned I was O negative. Her smiles got broader as she found my blood pressure was low and my iron levels were exceptional. Then she began the list of questions.

After a series of "no" responses, she asked, "Since 1980, have you ever lived in or traveled to Europe?" "Yes." "Did you live more than three months in the United Kingdom from 1980 to 1996?" "Yes." Her eyes stopped dancing and she responded, "Really?" I did a study abroad in London in 1993 for 5 1/2 months, and for that, I was ineligible to donate blood. Of course, I had to inquire why that was a problem and her answer was something about mad cow disease. Seriously?! If I'd been exposed to tainted beef in 1993, don't you think I'd have SOME sign of it affecting me by now? Could that REALLY cause problems for someone receiving my blood today? Can't they just test it?

Thinking, wow, the requirements for donors must really be tight, I continued reading down the list. If you've had malaria in the past 1-3 years, you can't donate because the parasite can lay dormant, but after 3 years, they'll accept your blood. You can still donate blood if you have herpes, the papilloma virus, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or high blood pressure. You can even have a pacemaker and still donate blood. You only have to wait one day since having the flu, one month for mono, six months after a major surgery, one year since a stroke, and ten years after breast cancer. Even if you used an unsterile technique for a tattoo or body piercing, you only have to wait one year to donate blood. All these are ok and my time spent in one of the most developed countries in the world for 5 1/2 months 17 years ago disqualifies me for life?! That seems crazy to me!

The nurse encouraged me not to give up hope. "They're going to reconsider the list of questions in a year. They recently dropped some of the questions about Africa. They might take the UK off the list. Please check back with us in the future." Sure; I'll make a note of it on my I-cal. Yes, I'm disappointed, and yes, I'm a little mad. I want the blood collected to be of the highest caliber, but can someone please explain to me why we are still concerned about "mad cow" decades later when not a single person in the US has ever been infected?

My frustrations aside, I still encourage YOU to consider donating blood NOW. Even if you don't have a loved one requiring blood, you never know when you will. Just a few minutes of your time could save someone's life.

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