Requirements to Give Blood

Thinking about giving blood for the first time? Or maybe it’s been awhile since you’ve given blood. We’re here to help you feel comfortable by providing answers to all of your questions on the requirements to give blood, and the actual process.

Did you know that about 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the U.S., according to the American Red Cross? The average adult has about 10 pints of blood in his body. Roughly one pint is given during a donation. But yet your one pint of blood has the ability to impact the lives of eight people.

The people who need blood aren’t always the “stereotypical” trauma-related patients – the ones in motor vehicle accidents or serious surgeries. Many are people who depend on blood transfusions for improved quality of life – people like chemotherapy patients. That’s why there’s always a need for blood donations, and you have the ability to positively impact that need.

Understand the Current Requirements to Give Blood

How often can you give blood?

The American Red Cross advises that healthy donors may donate whole red blood cells every 56 days (eight weeks), or Power Red every 112 days (16 weeks). Power Red donation uses a special machine to allow you to safely donate two units of red blood cells during one donation, while returning your plasma and platelets to you.

A healthy donor may donate platelets as few as 7 days apart, but a maximum of 24 times a year. During platelet donation, both arms are used because one arm extracts the blood and runs it thought a special machine, which extracts the platelets, then sends the remaining blood components back out of the machine and into the opposite arm.

Who can give blood?

In addition to registration, there is a short mini-physical involved with any blood donation. This is to ensure the person meets the requirements to give blood. These requirements vary depending on which type of donation you wish to pursue (for example, giving whole blood versus plasma, platelets or Power Red). Most people give whole blood, so we will refer to whole blood donation requirements when answering the questions below. 

At minimum, a person needs to be in good general health and feeling well to donate blood. They must also be least 17 years old in most states, (however some state laws allow 16-year-olds to donate blood with parental consent). Marisa Munafo, BSN, RN, Education Specialist at Firelands Regional Medical Center, organizes the blood drives for the organization. Below, she’ll give more details to the question: who can give blood?

  • How much do you have to weigh to give blood?
    Whole blood donors should weigh at least 110 lbs. Additional weight requirements apply for donors 18 years and younger, and all high school donors. These additional weight requirements depend on a person’s height.
  • Can diabetics donate blood?
    In most cases, yes. Your diabetes should be under control (meaning you have safe blood sugar levels) and you should be in general good health. If you are unsure whether you meet this requirement, talk to your doctor before giving blood.
  • Can you give blood if you have high blood pressure?
    Yes, you can donate blood if you have high blood pressure as long as your blood pressure is managed with medication.
  • Can you donate blood if you are on medication?
    You can donate if you take medicine for high cholesterol. Anti-depressant medicine and heart medication are also acceptable.
  • Can you give blood if you smoke marijuana?
    There is no harm in donating blood if you smoke marijuana, however Firelands Regional Medical Center and the American Red Cross do not condone smoking cannabis and donating blood.
  • Can you donate blood if you have a tattoo?
    Yes. A person with a tattoo can donate blood if the tattoo was applied by a state-regulated entity using sterile needles and ink that is not reused. In Ohio, tattoo establishments are state-regulated. The only states that are not regulated are Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Wyoming and the District of Columbia. In the past, a person would have to wait 12 months before being able to give blood after getting a tattoo.
  • Can you donate blood if you have a cold? Or the flu?
    No.  You should be feeling healthy when you donate blood. The National Institutes of Health says that you should be free of cold and flu symptoms for at least 48 hours before you give blood.

Now that we’ve covered many of the eligibility requirements to donate blood, let’s answer other questions you may have, such as how long it takes to donate blood, and where to give blood near you.

How long does it take to donate blood, and what’s the process?

The physical part of donating blood takes about ten minutes, but the entire process can take up to an hour. That’s because it includes registration, a mini-physical to ensure you meet the eligibility requirements to donate blood, the blood donation, and light refreshments before you leave to ensure your body is replenished with fluids.

Make sure to take care of yourself leading up to the blood draw. Get a good night’s rest the night before, drink plenty of fluids, and eat a healthy breakfast that morning. It’s a good idea to drink an extra glass of water within 10 to 30 minutes before you donate. 

If you’re nervous about donating blood, don’t worry. You may feel a quick pinch or a sense of discomfort from the needle, but it happens quickly and the discomfort should go away as the blood is drawn. If you don’t want to see the blood, or you worry about getting queasy, you can look away. Please tell the phlebotomist if you have a history of queasiness or fainting during blood donations.

The Real Life Impact of Blood Donations

Every two seconds someone in the United States needs blood.

Many times it’s people facing an emergency. A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood, according to the American Red Cross. But most people don’t realize how many other “non-emergency” situations require blood. For example, an estimated 1.7 million people were diagnosed with cancer in 2017, and many of them need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.

If blood supply in a region or hospital dips, blood shortages can mean that certain patients, most likely the “non-emergency” patients, don’t get the blood they need when they need it.

Marisa’s Story

That’s exactly what happened to the daughter of Marisa Munafo, BSN, RN, education specialist at Firelands Regional Medical Center. In 2005, 12-year-old Gina Munafo began experiencing symptoms of weight loss, fevers and fatigue. Aer several months of testing, Gina was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Gina’s cancer journey included six months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, along with many nights at the hospital.

“Once I got over the shock of what was happening, I went full force to complete this mission,” said Gina’s
mother, Marisa. “I was determined to be her advocate and make sure things were on track.”

The protocol for treating children with Lymphoma was standard. Gina’s treatment schedule consisted of inpatient chemotherapy for three days, a trip back home for a few days, then back to the hospital for neutropenia (low blood counts). 

"The most challenging part was going back in for low blood counts,” said Marisa. “When Gina’s blood counts were low, she would be feverish, chilled and lethargic. This behavior would break my heart. Gina was always a fun, vivacious little girl.”

To get Gina feeling like herself, she would be admitted back in the hospital and receive one to three units of blood. Those transfusions were the only thing that would help Gina bounce back to her spunky, happy self. One day after Gina’s normal routine of Lymphoma treatment, her blood counts were dropping. The family made their typical trek of bringing her back to the hospital for a blood transfusion. This time, Marisa was told Gina could not receive any blood because there was a blood shortage and it was only being given in an emergency situation.

“I was appalled,” said Marisa. “This was an emergency situation to me! This was my little girl needing to feel
better. I will never forget that dreadful weekend.” 

Gina spent the weekend miserable, lying in her mother’s arms with a fever, chills and no energy. “I remember thinking, ‘why is this happening?’ No one should be denied blood,” said Marisa. A few days later, Gina was finally able to receive a blood transfusion and began to feel better. 

As an Education Specialist in the Education department at Firelands, Marisa now makes it her mission to promote the health system’s blood drives and share the importance of donating blood. 

“I want to educate more people, so maybe they will be inspired to donate,” said Marisa. “I want to share my story.”

Over the past few years, the health system blood drives have increased from once a month to twice a month, when possible. More blood drives are being scheduled at Main Campus. Marisa continues to run the blood drives and works to motivate as many people as she can, because there is always a need for blood.

Christine’s Story

Christine Henderly, an employee in the Patient Accounts department at Firelands, uses knowledge of that need as her motivation to continually give blood. The first time she donated was in high school,
when Sandusky High School was sponsoring a blood drive.

Learn the requirements to give blood.Christine Henderly (left), Marisa Munafo (right)
“My assistant principal had recently lost his son in a car accident, and although my donating wasn’t able to directly help his son, I thought maybe it could help someone else,” said Christine. Since she first began donating at the Firelands blood drives five years ago, Christine has donated 28 pints. One pint of blood can be used for up to three people, so Christine has saved or improved the health of 84 people in the past five years.

Why does she keep donating?

“My motivation changes,” said Christine. “For a while it was for my cousin’s son who was very ill, or a little girl at my church, or a story I read in a magazine or saw online. I almost always have someone in mind that motivates me to be consistent in my donations. The emails that the American Red Cross sends out shows you a face that the blood donation helped, which is very powerful.” Marisa and Christine’s motivations are alike in that they both envision the people on the receiving end: not just emergency patients, but anyone who might need it.

“Christine is a true hero,” Marisa said. “Her donations have saved lives and made people feel better, just like my Gina. Gina is now 25 years old and is doing well.”

If you are thinking about giving blood for the first time, or you want to get back into a routine of giving blood, Christine recommends going online where you can find real stories of the impact blood donations can have in someone’s life. If you’re nervous about donating, go to a blood drive and see what they do, or talk to others who have donated.

“The American Red Cross workers are experienced at what they do,” said Christine. “The process doesn’t take much time, and the discomfort you might feel is minimal, but the difference it makes in another person’s life is huge.”

Where to Give Blood

The number one reason donors say they give blood is because they "want to help others.” You have the opportunity to help others by attending an American Red Cross Blood Drive at Firelands Regional Medical Center on one of the following dates:

  • Friday, April 27 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • May 11 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • May 25 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • June 8 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • June 29 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • July 13 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • July 27 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • August 10 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • August 31 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • September 14 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • September 28 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • October 16 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • October 26 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • November 9 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • November 30 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • December 14 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • December 28 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The blood drives will be held at South Campus, 1912 Hayes Ave., Sandusky, in the Education classroom (first floor). Pre-registration is not required. For more information, call 419-557-7523.