What’s the most thoughtful gift you’ve ever given somebody? Was it homemade or did you buy it? Did you put it in a box or wrap it? Think about how it made you feel. What if you could give someone a gift that you can make yourself, hardly costs anything and could change their life forever? Not only that, but you could be 100% sure it wouldn’t be returned for store credit.

If you read the title of this post, then you probably already know what that gift is. Yes, blood. It’s something we all depend on but rarely think about. It makes up about 8% of our body weight, and unlike some of the rest of that weight, we want every ounce of it. That’s because it carries out some of the most important functions in our bodies, such as:

  1. Transportation of oxygen, nutrients and other important substances
  2. Protection in the form of white blood cells and antibodies that destroy harmful invaders
  3. Regulation of water balance, pH levels and body temperature

If it’s so critical to our survival, how can we afford to give any away? Simple: the human body is made to create new blood constantly, and the amount taken in a typical donation is only a pint (about 13% of the body’s total supply).  Parting with this much blood might not have much of an impact on your health, but a single donation can help up to three people. Not only that, but access to a reliable blood supply can be the difference between life and death for someone. Someday, that someone could be a friend, a family member, or maybe even you.

Speaking of that, do you know what blood type you are? All blood may be made up of the same basic elements (red cells, platelets and plasma), but not all blood is the same.  There are actually eight different common blood types, each determined by the presence or absence of certain antigens – substances that can trigger an immune response if they are foreign to the body. This means that receiving a transfusion from a blood type that’s incompatible with your own can cause your to body attack the new blood. Knowing what blood type you are can be important for your own health and will also help you be prepared to help others when donations for certain blood types are needed. You might even be able to claim bragging rights as a “universal donor” (that’s Group O, by the way). Here’s a cheat sheet that shows which blood types can receive donations from which other types:


So can anyone donate blood? To ensure the safety for donors and recipients, all volunteer donors must be evaluated to determine their eligibility to give blood. Check out the American Red Cross list of eligibility requirements to learn more. If you’ve ever been deferred from donating in the past, don’t be afraid to check again because you may be able to donate next time.

There’s no better time to make a donation:  June 14th is the World Health Organization’s annual “World Blood Donor Day,” a global campaign aimed to raise awareness about the need for safe blood and blood products. This year’s focus is on “safe blood for saving mothers.” Did you know that every day, about 800 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications? Even the most “routine” birth involves some loss of blood for the mother, but complications that result in severe bleeding during and after delivery is a major cause of mortality, morbidity and long-term disability. Check out this infographic that illustrates just how widespread the problem is, what’s causing it, and what can be done to prevent it. Here’s a short campaign video:

YouTube Video Player: http://youtu.be/OpuJxJTbW4c

While the majority of maternal deaths from pregnancy-related bleeding take place outside of the U.S., there is still a very real need for donated blood right here. Check out some of these recipient stories to see how.

Ready to make a donation? Visit the American Red Cross website to schedule an appointment near you. Want to help even more? Learn how you can host a blood drive within your community.

Has a blood donation ever made a difference for you or someone you care about? Sign up to share your experiences with Health Stories Project!