Donation Nation: Get the Facts on National Donor Day

Learn what it’s like to donate organs, blood and other tissues, and how your donation helps patients.

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Happy Valentine’s Day! Along with being a holiday for celebrating our loved ones, today is also National Donor Day. Supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since its inception in 1998, the goal of this nationwide observance is to encourage more people to become organ, tissue and blood donors.

If you’re healthy, willing and able, there are a huge number of opportunities to donate both during your lifetime and after death. Today, we’ll go through the “five points of life”—organs, tissues, marrow, platelets and blood—that you can donate.

  • BLOOD DONATION. This type of donation is familiar to many, whether you’ve taken part in a blood drive at some point or you regularly visit your local hospital or blood center to give blood. The process is fairly straightforward: After a brief physical exam and medical history to determine eligibility, an IV will be inserted into a vein in your arm to draw your blood. After about 30 minutes to an hour, you will be done with your donation. You may feel lightheaded, be instructed to sit for 10 minutes or be given a snack and/or drink.

According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. When you donate, you’re helping build the national blood supply. Harvard Health Publications notes that regular blood donation can also offer health benefits, including a reduction in the risk of heart disease.

  • PLATELET DONATION. Platelets are small cells that play a role in the process of clotting. The procedure of donating platelets is very similar to donating blood. After a short physical exam and a series of questions during which your eligibility to donate is determined, you’ll be connected to an IV that draws blood, separates out the platelets and returns the blood to your body.

Where do your donated platelets go? The Red Cross tells us that they are critically important to the survival of many patients with clotting problems as well as those undergoing organ transplants. In many cases, they are given to cancer patients to replenish their supply, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

  • TISSUE DONATION. Tissue donation is the posthumous collection of bone, skin, heart valves, corneas and other types of tissues that living patients often need. Tissue donation can improve recipients’ quality of life through cosmetic and functional improvements. For example, a burn patient might be given a skin graft to replace destroyed tissue and restore both form and function to a damaged body part. It can also save lives; for example, a cardiac patient might receive a badly needed heart valve replacement, lowering their risk of future heart failure.

Many people are scared by or uncomfortable with the idea of posthumous tissue donation. One fact that may help make the benefits of tissue donation more concrete is that a single tissue donor can enhance the lives of more than 50 people, according to Donate Life America. 

  • BONE MARROW DONATION. Perhaps less well-known than the other types of donation on this list, bone marrow donation is no less important. It involves the extraction of liquid bone marrow (where the body produces red blood cells). Donations are usually taken from the donor’s pelvic bone.Bone marrow transplants can treat and even cure a range of diseases, including several leukemias and lymphomas, immunodeficiency disorders, metabolic disorders and other types of illnesses. The S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that each year, more than 20,000 patients could potentially benefit from a bone marrow transplant.
  • ORGAN DONATION. You can be an organ donor both during your life and after death. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, more than 122,000 people nationwide are currently waiting for an organ transplant. While the kidney is the most common organ given by a living donor, it’s possible in rare cases for living donors to donate a segment of a lung, pancreas or intestine. Organ donation carries medical and psychological risks, but many donors also experience the positive emotional impact of helping save another person’s life.

It’s up to you to make the choice whether donation is right for you. Donation is always voluntary, and registered donors may decide not to donate at any time. We hope the information here was valuable and informative, and that you’ll consider becoming a donor today.