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January 2011 • Published in The Daily Press, Ashland WI

Q: How is donated blood used to treat people with heart disease?

Blood transfusions continue to be the most frequent procedure performed in hospitals today, and are life-saving to patients undergoing any type of open heart surgery or transplant operation. During a typical procedure, for example, open heart surgery patients may require six units or more of blood products, which could include: red blood cells that carry oxygen to all the other cells; platelets that stop bleeding by ‘plugging’ holes in blood vessels and get consumed on bypass; or plasma, which replaces clotting factors. Cardiac transplants may use even more products.

As noted by the America Heart Association (AHA), the good news is that death rates related to these diseases continue to fall. However, the total number of inpatient cardiovascular operations and procedures continue to rise. The AHA’s 2011 Update reports that nearly 7 million cardiovascular operations and procedures were performed in 2007 (the most recent year of reported data), a 27% increase from 1997.

The AHA also reported that in 2009, 56.6 percent of heart transplant recipients were age 50 and older. Given our aging population, plus advances in treatments and procedures requiring transfusion, we expect the demand for blood to increase. That means we also will face a constant need for new blood donors. And February gives us all a few special reasons to roll up our sleeves.

During the month of February, designated in 1963 as American Heart Month, we encourage all those eligible to make a blood donation in honor of a loved one touched by heart disease. February 4th is specifically designated by the American Heart Association as National Wear Red Day, with celebrations across the country taking place to raise awareness of cardiovascular diseases, including stroke—our nation’s No. 1 killer. So please help us celebrate. Plan now to donate and help meet the demand at Ashland’s Memorial Medical Center and other area hospitals for the blood needed to save lives.

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 askthedoc@MBC.org. 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.