By Brian Flach for BioLawToday.org
By now, everyone has seen the fallout of Hurricane Harvey. The acts of heroism, the widespread destruction, but most importantly, the reminders that we as people want to help each other. This is evident in how blood drives seem to spring up overnight, both locally and across the country, to help medical staff cope with the influx of patients and injuries. From Beaumont, Texas to Tallahassee, Florida, people are flocking to pitch in and literally share their lifeblood with others. Regardless of race, religion or creed, people just want to help people and do a bit of good in the face of this terrible tragedy. However, it might be better for some of us to hold off our donations. In fact, consulting with collection centers and delaying your donation might save lives even more so than rushing to donate now.
Just like the milk in your fridge, blood has an expiration date. According to the Food and Drug Administration and American Association of Blood Banks, plasma has a one-year shelf life from the day of collection and platelets only have five days. Red blood cells have a 42-day lifespan if refrigerated and stored properly. But if the blood bag’s seal is broken, that lifespan drops to just 24 hours. Unfortunately, having expiration dates means that when donations are made following a natural disaster, blood might go to waste. Following the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013, the Red Cross’ need for blood and financial donations had been met within a few hours. However, blood is needed even more in the days and weeks following a disaster as blood banks recuperate after these disasters and start to refill their stockpiles to handle the everyday injuries that occur and require a blood transfusion. And although the damage done by Harvey is broader and more severe, the expiration dates stay the same.
Now, I’m not saying turn your cars around and don’t donate blood today. In fact, I will join any one of you that wants to go give blood and help those in need. What I’m saying is that it’s worth the time to consult with your local blood collection centers and learn about the process. Take a few minutes and find out if they need blood now or if it would be more helpful to come back in a few days. Find out the times of year when blood donations are low and organize a community trip to help those in need. See if it’s more helpful to donate to a national organization like the Red Cross or a local one like ARUP. By consulting with blood collection centers, donors are actually extending the period in which emergency services has unexpired, useable blood. By learning about the process, donors are dramatically increasing the chances of their blood being put to good use and helping those who need it. And by continuing to donate weeks and months after a disaster, donors are helping to restock the depleted blood banks following a disaster and making sure that the victims have the blood they need moving forward.
Brian is currently a second year law student at the S.J. Quinney College of Law and is a member of the Utah Law Review as well as the Vice President of the Student Intellectual Property Law Association. He graduated from the University of Utah with an Honors B.S. in Biomedical Engineering in 2016. During his 1L year, he served as a legal intern at BioFired Defense, L.L.C.