Craig Hlavaty giving blood
When faced with the task of being poked by a phlebotomist I am known to clamp up, sweat, and fret. Harrowing experiences in the past with green phlebotomists that have used me and my veins as a dartboard are the culprit. Fear, even the most unfounded, is just one of several ways that many of us self-defer and dont donate blood, even when its needed the most.
Right now through the end of May 2021, the team from the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center will be at the Houston Museum of Natural Science each week operating a pop-up donation station. I was one of the first from the HMNS staff to donate to the cause, facing my own fears in the process.
(There are also blood drives this month at many other locations including the Houston Bar Association and Moody Gardens. For details, go to giveblood.org.)
According to Kevin Shipley, the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Centers director of donor recruitment, stringent public COVID protocols mean that area blood drives at schools and businesses are somewhat rare.
COVID has created several challenges to maintaining an adequate blood supply, Shipley noted. When schools and businesses had to close their doors, the blood drives associated with their locations were also lost. It is essential that donors continue to find convenient locations to donate throughout our community to schedule their blood donations.
Donation drives at area high schools are usually the most fruitful, rich in eager student donors especially when the incentive to donate is missing class. Adding a splash of cosplay works too.
Sometimes we dress up as vampires and escort donors to and from class and help walk them through the process, said Kellye Moran, the centers social media coordinator.
In addition to limited venues, many are still under the influence of spurious donation myths. Shipley and his team hear it all on a daily basis while screening donors. Besides the fear of needles, some cultures believe that donating makes you sterile, and Shipley has even heard that donations make you gain weight.
Myth: I have to wait years after a tattoo or a piercing to donate.
Fact: Tattoos and piercings applied in state-licensed facilities require just a one-week waiting period to donate.
Myth: I can't donate because I have high blood pressure.
Fact: As long as your blood pressure is below 180 systolic and below 100 diastolic at the time of your donation, you can donate.
Myth: I can't donate because I'm diabetic.
Fact: You can donate if you are feeling well, regardless of blood sugar level.
Myth: I can't donate blood because I've had cancer.
Fact: Most cancers have a one-year deferral period, and minor skin cancers only require a two-week deferral. Leukemia and Lymphoma are the only two forms of cancer that have an indefinite deferral.
Myth: I can't donate after taking antibiotics or medicine for infections.
Fact: You can donate 48 hours after completing your medication as long as you are symptom-free from the illness you were taking the medication for.
Myth: Gay men arent allowed to donate.
Fact: This is certainly an area where progress has been made, but more work is being done by the FDA with regards to donor eligibility, Shipley said. Previously, a man who had sex with another man was indefinitely deferred. A few years ago, it was updated to a one-year deferral, and as of June this year, the FDA updated their guidance to 3 months.
More than 800 units are needed each day to support the needs of patients in our community. Donors should know that with donation levels at a much lower rate than usual, your blood products (whole blood, plasma, or platelets) wont exactly be collecting dust on a refrigerated shelf.
It can be as soon as 24 hours after your donation that your unit is on its way to a hospital to help save someones life, Shipley told me. This is highly dependent on our current blood supply and the needs of each hospital.
Shipley added that those who have had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis and are now fully recovered can help others in their recovery by donating convalescent plasma.
The day I donated the Gulf Coast team let me take a silly selfie with my still-warm bag of blood to share on my social media feeds. Those squeeze balls are also free to keep now, thanks to COVID, and they come in handy as stress relievers in Houston traffic.
Im next eligible to donate blood again on Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving. Instead of B positive, my blood that day might be Pam Hlavatys green bean casserole.
Craig Hlavaty is a Houston-based writer.
Craig Hlavaty is a freelance writer for chron.com and the Houston Chronicle.
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