01/21/2012 11:22 am ET Updated Mar 22, 2012

National Blood Donor Month: Every Two Seconds, Someone Needs Blood

In a makeshift medical station in Burleson's Senior Center on Thursday, Char Smith clenches and continuously squeezes a rubber ball in her palm.

She smiles and sits still in a American Red Cross patient chair that's reclined slightly.
"I've given blood for about 20 years," she says as American Red Cross phlebotomist Susie Stages swabs the inner part of Smith's arm with a sanitizer.

Smith, who is blood Type O positive, donates because she wants to help others live longer.

"Wow, look at that vein. That's a good one right there," Stages says as she pulls out a needle and an empty plastic bag that can hold 1 pint or 16 ounces of blood.

"I might cry when you stick it in," Smith says jokingly as she continues to smile and watch Stages like a child watching a magic trick.

Stages presses the needle into Smith's vein and like clockwork, her blood drains slowly though a tube and into the 16 ounce bag.

"Keep squeezing that ball," Stages says. "It'll take about eight minutes before the bag is full."

Smith's blood type, the most common type in the U.S., is one hospitals use the most.
During the winter months, the Red Cross needs more people like Smith -- someone willing to give no matter the season or blood type.

Blood donors are a select few. Only three out of every 100 people in America donate blood and the average red blood cell transfusion is about three pints.

"There's always a shortage," Stages said. "For some reason during the winter months, the number of donors drops off."

Stages said sometimes people are scared at the thought of donating blood and of needles.

Smith, 66, said there's nothing to it.

"I've seen it all," Stages said as she continued to monitor Smith. "I've had people freak out but once the needle is in, they see that there's nothing to worry about."

More than 38,000 blood donations are needed every day and blood drives help to meet demand.

The blood drive in the senior center Thursday was organized by Burleson, Huguley Memorial Medical Center, Burleson Rotary Club and Burleson Chamber of Commerce. The event was open to anyone willing and able to donate.

"January is blood donating awareness month. To highlight the need for blood during the winter months we put together a community blood drive," said Victoria Sykes, Huguley Memorial Medical Center community development coordinator.

Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood, and more than five million people will have gone through some type of transfusion.

"So it's pretty crucial for people to donate and blood drives shouldn't be the only time people give blood," she said.

People can visit the Red Cross website at to find a Red Cross chapter closest to them.

To donate, a person will need a photo ID and to answer a list of personal history questions.

Blood donors must also be at least 17 years old and at least 110 pounds.

No one probably knows how serious donating blood is than those working in first response services.

David Wardlaw, who is Type A positive, witnesses the need for blood almost every time he's on the scene of a major accident.

A single-car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood, according to the Red Cross.

"I've given a lot of blood. At least a gallon," the Burleson Police Department community resource officer said. "I don't know if I've ever had a co-worker who has needed a blood transfusion, but I've seen enough accidents to know that it's important to give because it can save lives."

After eight minutes, Smith gave 16 ounces of blood.

Stages bandaged Smith's arm and then Smith helped herself to a small bag of cookies and a 20-ounce water bottle.

"I give because I want people to live as long as they possible can," Smith said. "I don't give as much as I ought to, but I do it a couple of times a year."

In 480 seconds, the length of time it took to drain Smith's blood, about 240 Americans were given a blood transfusion, according to Red Cross statistics.

Blood has a shelf life of 42 days, but it's unlikely Smith's blood will be stored for half that long before it's needed.

Read more at The Cleburne Times-Review.