Did you know, only 38% of Americans are eligible to donate blood, and of those only 8% do (that amounts to only about 3 of 100 people) Source: American Red Cross
The first time I donated blood was at the US Air Force Technical School in Biloxi, Mississippi. Students waiting for classes to start were assigned tasks (mostly menial) to keep them busy. In my case, sweeping stairwells of barracks and painting handrails — –what fun!
USAF, 1980 (they must have better hats now)
So when there was an announcement that blood donors were needed, and those donating blood would get a day off, well…off I went to donate.
A day off to do whatever I wanted? Yes Sir! I’m there, I’m in, no second thoughts.
It was not at all a bad experience — and I became a regular blood donor.
After the Air Force, there were always easy ways to donate blood. The places I worked had blood drives, or campaigns with mobile buses. For a few years, we lived near a blood bank facility — it is super easy to give blood when you drive by the place to go home!
Blood donation bus image via Wikipedia Commons
Since moving to the central coast however, I have not been a regular donor. So when I saw a blood donation bus parked by our local Costco, I took the opportunity to get with the program, and climbed the bus steps to donate again.
I was new to this program and filled out what seemed like pages upon pages (more than I remembered from before) of forms. One of the questions was about military service, where, and time period.
During the interview, the nurse asked more specific information, and because I was in Germany during the mid 1980’s, she informed me that I can no longer donate blood, as in EVER AGAIN. What! Really???
Turns out the current guidelines from the Red Cross on blood donations prohibit donations from those who lived in the United Kingdom or France for more than 3 months between 1980 and 1996.
But wait, I did not live in the UK or France….and she replied no, but the issue is BEEF, and commissaries at bases in Germany sold beef that came from the UK.
Beef at commissaries?
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services CDC (Center for Disease Control and prevention), “there is now strong scientific evidence that the agent responsible for the outbreak of prion disease in cows, BSE (Mad Cow Disease), is the same agent responsible for the outbreak of a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) in humans”. It states further that the risk is low (oh good!) after eating contaminated products, but there is a risk nonetheless.
So, because of the possibility that beef from the UK — if we had purchased and eaten any while in Germany —-could have been contaminated, I am no longer eligible to donate blood. And no, I don’t remember exactly what we ate during those years…but I do remember we did eat beef.
Beyond the fact that I cannot give blood, that information was disturbing.
Sadly, I’m off the blood donation bus — forever 🙁 …but if YOU are in good health and can donate, please make a difference and do so.
Added on January 8, 2015: story on the NPR Radio Program “All Things Considered” on Why The U.S. Still Bans Blood Donations From Some U.K. Travelers – click here to listen to the program.
Rules governing who can donate blood in the United States have recently changed. But anyone who spent more than three months in the UK between 1980 and 1996 is still prohibited from donating. That rule is in place to minimize the risk of spreading Mad Cow Disease. Robert Siegel speaks with Dr. Lorna Williamson about how the risk is mitigated in the UK.
You can contact your local Red Cross office to find out about a blood drive campaign near you, or make an appointment to give at www.redcrossblood.org — or call your local hospital. Guidelines for donors are listed on the red cross website.
And according to the Red Cross, THERE IS ALWAYS A NEED. Adults have 10 pints of blood, and a donation of 1 pint can save 3 lives.
Related post: My Germany & Philippine connection (about the Wittlich Annual Saeubrenner Festival) and hot iron for your undies (a snippet about life in Germany & Oma Adelaide, who took care of my then baby daughter, Dominique)