Do you know your blood type? I was surprised when many of my friends and family members said they didn't know theirs. But here's an easy way to find out and also do a little good work at the same time - become a blood donor.
I've been a regular donor at the Stanford Blood Center for nearly six years. I already knew my blood type, thanks to an experiment in a high school biology class, and that's part of what prompted me to become a donor in the first place. I have AB+ blood, which is on the rare side (about 3.4 percent of Americans have that blood type). What I didn't know was that I had never had cytomegalovirus, or CMV, a widespread virus that rarely causes symptoms but can be dangerous to people who have weak immune systems. The Stanford center routinely tests donated blood for the presence of CMV antibodies as well as other viruses. That's because the center is primary supplier of blood products to Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, which cares for transplant patients and others with compromised immune systems.
Because I had never contracted CMV, I was asked to become a platelet donor. Platelet donations take a little longer (the whole process usually lasts about 2 hours), but they make it comfortable by providing individual DVD players and a library of movies and TV shows to choose from. You can relax in a warmed, reclining seat and watch a movie while an apheresis machine removes your blood, separates the components, retains the platelets and returns the remaining blood through the same needle.
Two weeks ago, I made a whole-blood donation for a specific patient who matched my blood type. Whole-blood donations are much shorter, usually under an hour. But no matter which type of donation you make, you always get juice and a snack - great cookies! - at the end. (Fellow blood donors, which cookies are your favorites? I crave the chocolate-chocolate chip ones.)
Each blood donation also provides a nice little snapshot of your health. They'll check your blood pressure, pulse, temperature, cholesterol and hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen). Stanford's center posts the results in each donor's online profile, making it easy to track your numbers.
So, if you'd like to learn more about your overall health and do some good for others at the same time, contact your local blood center and find out about the guidelines for becoming a donor. And if you're squeamish or have medical reasons that prevent you from being a donor, consider volunteering to assist with some of the administrative tasks. They'll definitely appreciate the help.
Photo by American Red Cross - Oregon Trail Chapter