Blood Donor Awareness Month puts attention on easy way to save lives

January 7, 2016

The holidays may be over but you can still give. January is Blood Donor Awareness Month -- a chance for you to give just by raising your sleeve.

Blood donations are a crucial part of recovery and survival for many kinds of patients, including the smallest of them all -- preterm infants.

Donated blood products are used to treat anemia and coagulation disorders in newborn and preterm infants. | Photo By IU School of Medicine - Department of Pediatrics

“Neonatology is a critical care specialty, and anemia and coagulation disorders are frequent problems,” said IU School of Medicine’s William Engle, M.D., Erik T. Ragan Professor of Pediatrics and Director of Clinical Affairs, Section of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine. “We use donated blood products, including red blood cells, fresh frozen plasma, platelets, and cryoprecipitate to treat such disorders in newborns.”

Some of these products are able to be stored for future use, but platelets and red blood cells must be used quickly, producing a vital need for consistent blood donations. Donors can choose to give whole blood or opt for the donation of specific blood components.

Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health has a Level IV NICU designation, the highest level of care. It uses donated blood and its components daily in its 60-bed neonatal intensive care unit.

“Our faculty has developed guidelines for transfusions of preterm infants to balance the benefits and risks of blood product transfusion,” said Dr. Engle. “The guidelines have been shared with other NICU directors in Indiana.”

To further strengthen expertise in this and other areas of medicine requiring blood donations, the IU School of Medicine Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine offers a transfusion medicine fellowship with the Indiana Blood Center that’s accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). The program offers exposure to adult and pediatric transfusion services and modern processes involving cell therapy and apheresis -- a technique that separates blood into its different components -- as well as donor center operations and physician management.

Donating blood is a simple way to give back to your community and help save the lives of those around you. Blood donations are not only important to premature babies, but also to many cancer and leukemia patients, those receiving organ or bone marrow transplants, and people with traumatic injuries and accidents -- just to name a few. Many of these patients need multiple units of blood; without a healthy blood supply in Indiana, it would be impossible for them to receive the help they need.

IU School of Medicine and the Indiana Blood Center have worked together to develop guidelines and protocols to best utilize the available blood supply and avoid waste. Just one pint of blood can help up to three people, and many people are eligible to donate. To find out more about eligibility and how you can raise your sleeve to help save lives in Indiana, visit the Indiana Blood Center website at www.indianablood.org or the American Red Cross website at www.redcross.org/blood.