Nurses and needles, oh my!

Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of aichmophobics everywhere like the words “Blood Drive.” But they’re sure to hear it, at least twice a year – homecoming in the fall and Greek Week in the spring – as student organizations across the campus compete to see who can pump out the most blood and, consequently, save the most lives.

But what happens to the blood after it’s donated? You’re handed a couple slices of pizza, a Gatorade and a T-shirt and off you go. But what about that little baggie of bluish blood they just took from you and stamped stickers onto robotically?

Prior to donation

Before you psyche yourself up, or get anxious and pass out before a needle’s been pricked, log onto to see if you qualify to give blood. If not, don’t panic. There are a couple ways you may be able to change that.

To help ensure a positive donation experience, start with a hearty dinner the night before and plenty of fluids on the day. The more fluids you drink, the faster your blood flows, so if you want to get in and out before you can say circulatory system – drink up!

Alex Martinez, 37, the collection area director for Community of Blood Centers of South Florida recommends eating red meat, leafy-green veggies and snacking on raisins and peanuts for a few days prior. Despite popular belief, having low iron on a particular donation day does not necessarily mean you’re anemic. Iron levels fluctuate regularly, and may just be a result of poor diet, or for women, an untimely part of the month.

Oh, and, take a multivitamin. Regardless of blood donator status, it’s just plain good for you.

One more thing to keep in mind is blood type. If you’re AB- or O+ these are the two blood types donation centers are always in need of – AB- is the rarest, while O+ is the universal blood, meaning it can be given or receive from anyone.

Pump it out

Once you’ve made it through the intense screening process (it’s worse than airport security) and survived donating itself, with blood, sweat and only a few tears, you’re blood is ready to start saving lives.

One pint of blood, or 450-460 milliliters, is taken during normal blood donation. Once the blood is collected, it is transported to the laboratories where it is separated into all of its different components: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma. It is then tested for HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, cholesterol levels, West Nile virus and 11 or 12 other tests before it can be donated. The blood is then placed in a refrigerator for a minimum of 72 hours pending the results of those tests.

The Community Blood Center keeps the blood until it receives a call from a hospital with the number of units of blood needed. Community Blood Centers of South Florida services 90 percent of the hospitals in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties, including all of the major emergency centers, like Jackson and Baptist Health. Each pint of blood can save up to four lives.

Pump it out.again and again

So now that you’ve done your good deed for the day, wait two months and do it again! That’s how long donors are required to wait between donation sessions. If you gave platelets, it’s only two weeks.

“I know people who are into their 90s still donating blood every two months,” said Martinez. “I’ve been giving every two months since I was 17 – I’m up to 10 gallons donated.”

Now that you’re in the spirit of giving, make like Popeye and start eating that spinach. The Community Blood Centers of South Florida will be in their usual spot in the flamingo ballrooms for the annual homecoming blood drive on Oct. 29, 30 and 31. This year the goal is to break the Homecoming 2005 record of 732 pints donated.

“People have lots of reasons for giving. It’s a way to help the community, a way to give back, and of course, to save lives,” said Martinez.

You’ve got it. Why not give it to someone who needs it?

NOTE: The Community Blood Center is not for profit, which means if you’ve heard a rumor that you can earn extra cash for donating blood, you’re wrong. Well, partially. You won’t be paid at a community blood center, but there are a couple blood banks in the region that will pay people to donate blood that will be used solely for research, not for donation to hospitals and patients.

Dani McNally may be contacted at