Blood Donation Month


January is blood donation month – a perfect time to reach out and help fellow humans. In the U.S., someone needs a unit of blood every two seconds. And with no synthetic alternative, the only option for this life-saving transfusion comes from blood donations. Blood drives happen constantly through donation organizations like the American Red Cross that take donations and make the blood available for sale to hospitals that need it. But to give directly to the hospital is an even better step because it removes the need for hospitals to purchase blood. Hospitals like Huntington Hospital in Pasadena take blood donations through its on-site donation facility at the location in Pasadena, through arranged blood drives with tables and chairs at festivals and via the mobile blood donation center that drives around LA to various schools, conventions, public events and company offices. But once the blood is out of the donor, where does it go?

“When you donate blood you normally donate a bag of blood that is about 490 milliliters, but you also give three little vials,” said Jackie Baca-Geary, blood donor recruiter at Huntington Hospital. “Those three little vials are going to go out with a courier and go to a testing facility to get tested.”

The blood vials are tested for blood type and pathogens including HIV, hepatitis, West Nile virus, Zika virus, syphilis and Chagas. Results are back from the lab the following morning and, if the blood is free of any issues, it is then filtered and, if needed, separated out into plasma, red cells and platelets. The blood can be kept on the shelf for 42 days but, in a critical blood shortage as the country is experiencing now, it’s anyone’s guess to say whether any unit of blood will be kept that long before being needed.

“What I personally find interesting is you just never know what’s going to come in your door. You may have a guy on a motorcycle who’s B negative, who needs 40 units to stay alive and that wipes out your whole B negative [stock]. Or O negative or A positive,” said Baca-Geary. “I mean one of the challenges the lab side has is always keeping [enough blood types in stock]. Because we’re a trauma unit, that’s kind of a level up from an emergency room, we get patients who are flown in or driven in who have a higher level of injury or trauma we serve, so we use a lot of blood. They try to maintain, just based on their own history and experience, how much blood of each type they like to keep on the shelf.”

O negative is the most needed across the board because it is the universal donor blood, meaning it can be given to anyone of any blood type without fear of rejection. When people come into an emergency room or trauma center in need of blood quickly, they are given O negative first before the response team has a chance to find out the patient’s blood type.

Donation is important for replenishing the stock of blood for patients in need, but it is also good for the donor. It is actually healthful to donate blood regularly, especially for men. Losing blood is good for the heart and helps to cycle out red blood cells by donating the old and triggering the generation of fresh cells.

“I always joke that women donate once a month, so we’re always replenishing our cells,” said Baca-Geary.

Blood donation is also a great unifier, she said. It doesn’t matter what color people are, what religion, how much money they have or where they’re from. Everyone is the same because everyone bleeds red.

“We’re just all coming in, we’re all donating and we’re all trying to help each other and it doesn’t matter who gets it,” said Baca-Geary. “So that I think is also pretty cool about the process.”

To learn more and to find out where to donate, visit