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Ask the Doc

February 2012 • Published in The Daily Press, Ashland WI

Q: My name is Page Odegard. I'm a student at UMD and am giving a persuasive speech about why we should donate blood. I have a few questions that would really help my speech: 

  • What happens to the blood that isn’t used?
  • How many people die because they can’t get blood fast enough?

Please share any other information that you think would help me persuade my class to donate blood. Thank you so much!

A: Thanks for being the evangelist for life! We think blood donation is a great way to help our community and it is a donation that most people can give. So to your first question: Actually very little blood goes unused. Since Memorial Blood Centers serves over 30 area hospitals, in case of an urgent situation we have great flexibility in moving supplies around to wherever it is needed most. For example, of the three components of whole blood (red cells, platelets, plasma) only 1-2 % of red cells outdate and the vast majority are type AB. In this case, type AB red cells can only be safely transfused to patients who are also type AB (and only about 4% of the U.S. population are—about 1 person out of every 25!)

This example is the best demonstration of why we encourage all blood donors to “donate the right type for your type”. Type AB blood donors can maximize their gift by donating platelets or plasma, rather than red cells. Donated type AB plasma, in particular, is most valuable in helping to save lives because it is considered the “universal” type that can be transfused to anyone—regardless of the recipient’s blood type. Conversely, blood donors with type O and who weigh over 150 lbs. can make a real difference by donating double red cells since we use group O blood in an emergency, a common event at trauma hospitals.

With regard to your second question: almost no one dies because of lack of blood on the shelf. Rather, the challenge is more often in getting the blood to the person in need at the time it’s needed most. For example, most ambulances don't carry blood onboard and when accidents happen in more rural areas time can be a critical factor for patients experiencing severe blood loss. That’s why Memorial Blood Centers has started to supply LifeLink III helicopters (they serve the more remote regions in the Northland) with type O blood, since many patients may be up to an hour away from a hospital where blood supplies would be available.

You might think of Memorial Blood Centers as the ultimate Boy Scout: we always have to be prepared. Being prepared, with adequate blood supplies on the shelf, is our way of helping to prevent people from dying from lack of blood. And the way we do that is to have regular blood drives. We rely on the generosity of our volunteer donors who step up and give blood on a regular basis—once a season is the best way to plan.
In fact, over the next 30 days UMD students (and all eligible blood donors) can schedule an appointment online at to make a donation at one of our upcoming on-campus drives:

February 8 10:30 am to 5:30 pm
UMD Housing & Residence Life
Lake Superior Hall 149
513 Niagara Court
Use Sponsor Code 0876 to register online

March 8 8:00 am to 4:00 pm
UMD Kirby Student Center
1120 Kirby Drive
Use Sponsor Code 2094 to register online

As a postscript to Paige’s original submission to Ask the Doc, she provided the following summary of the results of her presentation:

“It was fantastic. I had plenty of information for all of my peers. I don't know if any of them have donated since, but I do know that if there is another blood drive on the UMD campus soon, the students from my class would be more than willing to donate. They definitely learned many new things about donating and how important it is. College students are the perfect age to get started because they really understand how much of a difference they can make and could create great habits of donating."

Jed Gorlin, M.D. is Medical Director and Vice President, Medical and Quality Affairs for Memorial Blood Centers. Elizabeth Perry, M.D. is Associate Medical Director for Memorial Blood Centers. Send us your questions at Call us today 1-888-GIVE-BLD (888-448-3253) to schedule an appointment, or to find out more about Memorial Blood Centers and how we partner with the Ashland community to save lives.