GERARD W. FRANK, M.D., PH.D., SPECIAL TO THE MIRROR
The first report of a human blood transfusion was more than 300 years ago, and then it involved sheep’s blood. Amazingly, the patient survived!
Today, we couldn’t imagine medicine without transfusions. Transfusions are a very complex, billion-dollar industry. Each of us has about a one-in-five chance of needing a transfusion during our lifetime. It would be wonderful if one in five of us donated blood as well. Decades of attempts to find blood substitutes have failed to come up with a truly effective solution. Buying blood, or in other words, paying donors, has always been suspect, and freely donated blood is clearly safer for patients. Everyone knows that the American Red Cross is our major supplier of blood, but most major hospitals, including UCLA’s hospitals in Westwood and Santa Monica, have donor centers.
One of my most vivid memories goes back to a day when I made an appointment to donate. When I arrived at the Red Cross, there were dozens of people waiting to donate. Why? The date was Sept. 11, 2001! What this reveals is that when we perceive the need personally, it motivates us to donate.
Many people who would not normally donate to the Red Cross may make a “directed donation” for a family member or friend undergoing surgery. Doing so, however, covers only a tiny percentage of patients needing blood. Cities like Los Angeles, with academic medical centers and transplant programs, require huge amounts of blood components, including red blood cells, plasma, and platelets for clotting. A large amount of the blood transfused here has to be “imported” from other counties or even states to meet our demand.
Most of us know that blood comes in different “types” — O, A, B, and AB. Ideally, the donor’s blood exactly matches the patient’s type. Patients with types A, B and AB can receive blood from O donors. But patients with type O can only accept blood from another O donor. However, blood type is only the beginning of the matching process. The blood bank has to test the patient’s blood for antibodies to the donor’s. Often, units of blood have to be passed over to prevent a severe reaction from transfused blood. Antibody patterns vary in different ethnic groups. Consequently, it is vital to recruit donors from all ethnic groups in Los Angeles to increase the odds of finding better matches between donors and patients.
We have all seen blood drives at our offices, schools, or community centers. Our high schools and colleges have become major sources of blood products. It’s wonderful to see young people begin the habit of donating. If your friend or family member needs blood, consider replenishing the supply by donating. Imagine if you needed blood. Wouldn’t you be eternally grateful to the person who gave the blood?
This holiday season, give the gift of life by donating blood. In addition to the Santa Monica Red Cross, the UCLA Blood & Platelet Center recruits donors for its hospitals in Santa Monica and Westwood. For an appointment or more information, call 310. 825.0888.
Dr. Gerard W. Frank is a board-certified internal medicine specialist and pulmonologist with the UCLA Medical Group in Santa Monica and an associate clinical professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.