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Health Officials Battle Misconceptions About Blood Donation

Dallas, TX –

Often during holiday periods, you'll hear more appeals for blood donations. People tend to get busier around this time, so fewer come in to give. But Dr. Jeanie Chiu of Carter Blood Care says the need for blood remains the same. She talked about this with Sam Baker in this KERA Health Checkup.

Dr. Chiu: In general, we like to see about 1,100 donors a day walk through our doors to be able to meet the supply need for our community. We cover 300-plus hospitals across 56 counties, so we're talking about really a large, large number of patients and a lot of facilities that need our support.

Sam: That blood goes for what?

Dr. Chiu: For, basically, anyone who needs a blood product for surgeries. Organ transplants, kidney transplants, live transplants typically will utilize a good amount of blood. Even people who are not surgical patients. We always have a lot of cancer patients who come in weekly or every few days for a prophylactic transfusion just because from their disease process, their blood cells drop down and need to be replenished.

Sam: Once a person gives blood, it can only be stored for about

Dr. Chiu: 42 days is the shelf life of a unit of red blood cells. Actually, we have some special patients, like some pediatric patients, some older patients, heart patients, who we get actual requests from hospitals for fresher blood. So blood that has only been on the shelf for less than a week or so.

Sam: Because I was wondering how often blood sits in the blood bank for 42 days?

Dr. Chiu: It pretty much never does. It comes in; it may sit maybe a few days, but it flies off the shelf - particularly Type O blood, because Type O blood is the universal blood type. Type O blood can be given to anyone.

Sam: That's the type most in need of?

Dr. Chiu: That is the type most in need of because occasionally when you get emergency situations, people come into the E.R. and they're bleeding profusely from an accident or a disease process where they've been bleeding out internally, and before you have time sometimes to work up their blood type, you don't have time to wait. So, what they want is the Type O blood and they can transfuse that right away.

Sam: Who can give blood and who can't?

Dr. Chiu: Approximately 70 percent of people are eligible, but a very small percentage of those people actually donate blood.

Sam: But what are some of the reasons a person couldn't give?

Dr. Chiu: Things like travel to certain countries because of malarial risks, certain medical risks may prevent you from donating. Certain medications, although the medication list is shorter than it used to be. You have to be at least 110 pounds. We check you hemoglobin level. It's a finger prick and we see, basically, what your level of red cells or iron is in your body. There has to be blood pressure criteria that you have to meet and pulse criteria.

Sam: There is a need for more than just whole blood?

Dr. Chiu: In the past several years, we have had a lot of technology developed where we can do apheresis donations, so we can draw red blood cells, plasma, platelets, depending on what combination we want. A platelet is a special type of blood cell that is necessary for clotting. The shelf life of a platelet product is only five days. Platelets are heavily, heavily used with cancer patients, pediatric patients, a lot of heart patients.

Sam: Finally, there's always an appeal for people to give blood. I know there are bloodmobiles that go from company to company. I think there used to be blood drives in public school. Is that still the case?

Dr. Chiu: Yes, we do have a lot of dedicated high school donors, 17 year olds and 18 year olds. And now we can actually draw 16 year olds, but we need parental consent.

Sam: Are there any obstacles in your way that keeps you from doing more than you'd like to do?

Dr. Chiu: A lot of the minority communities are not quite as enthusiastic or open to blood donation.

Sam: Because?

Dr. Chiu: We suspect, well we know, from talking to people that there are misconceptions and, some of these, there are cultural differences from long time ago. Those barriers can be hard to overcome, but we're always trying to make new contacts in communities and reach out to them and encourage them to reach out to us and have open communication and maybe that's a good starting point.

Dr. Jeanie Chiu is Medical Director of Technical Services at Carter BloodCare.

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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.