Giving the Invaluable

Yesterday, I gave blood for the second time this year. I had given blood several times in the past, and had long wanted to give blood again, but to be honest, the results of my genetics testing early this year helped induce me to action again. First of all, I have socialist blood: O-Negative, as does my brother Bruce. I have long known that, and the genetics tests confirmed what I already knew from people looking at my actual blood. The genetics test also confirmed something I had long suspected. I have a hemochromatosis risk. This is my only genetic disease risk from among the many which were tested, and it consists of an inability to remove iron from one's blood. My brother Bruce has this disorder, and I have always had a high hematocrit, highly oxygenated and extremely dark blood. (Maybe I have Pygmy blood, but that's another story as it was discovered that I am part Mbuti Pygmy.) Actually, hemochromatosis is most common in people of British descent; Bruce has the bad form of the Hemochromatosis gene from both of our parents, while I have the bad form on one chromosome, and a gene which presents a milder risk factor, but isn't the "normal" gene either, on the other chromosome. This is why I have blood that is richly saturated with red blood cells, but not the actual Hemochromatosis disease. It may also explain why I tend to feel good at high altitudes and adjust to altitude rises well. The treatment for Hemochromatosis is to give blood as frequently as is practical, which Bruce does. Based upon the genetics tests and my geneticist brother Craig's recommendation, Craig (who is also a Hemochromatosis carrier) and I decided to give blood frequently from this point onward, both to help those who need blood, and for our own health.

It turns out that as with giving in general, donating blood is actually good for people, not only those with Hemochromatosis, but everyone to an extent. Giving blood reduces the risk of heart disease, research shows. In fact, it is hypothesized that the mechanism is through reducing iron levels in the blood. Excessive iron in the blood damages a person's heart and circulatory system, and less is better, even among those who do not have Hemochromatosis. The Nebraska Community Bloodbank site (http://www.ncbb.org/personal-health-benefits) also mentions free health screening, the boosting of blood cell production, and of course, the satisfaction of having done something altruistic, as benefits of giving blood. Iron makes the blood thicker and more viscous, which tends to result in clogged blood vessels (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2333882/Donating-blood-good-YOUR-health-receiver.html). Also, it is mentioned that giving blood burns 650 calories for every pint given.

Since I was put on the Lifestream blood donor list in July, along with my wife Zunliang who wound up giving blood along with me then, I have been receiving "Ve Vant your blood" calls and flyers from them. I determined to donate blood on October 21 since I had received a flyer from Lifestream saying that the bloodmobile would be in town that day. If you haven't given blood before, you may not realize that a large number of questions (like 50 or so) are asked for purposes of potentially excluding people from donating whose blood may be contaminated, before one can give blood. The ones about sex with HIV infected people or prostitutes, and the ones about taking drugs and past bouts of Hepatitis etc. are not surprising, but the ones about whether we had ever spent any time in Britain were a little surprising. (Apparently, people in Britain are having their blood contaminated.) They were also interested in whether I had been to any foreign nations in the past 3 years, to which I answered yes, but they were satisfied with my answer that I was in Taiwan with my wife from August 2 - August 25, 2011. Being the clean, drug-free, monogamous boy who has never had Hepatitis that I am, I passed the other questions easily.

A technician also took my blood pressure and pulse, and pricked a finger to measure my always high but not out of bounds hematocrit. I must have been nervous, because much as last time, my blood pressure was much higher than usual, at 151 over 100. I had taken my own blood pressure a few hours earlier yesterday, and it was only 131 over 78. The 151 over 100 was nonetheless better than the last time I gave blood, when it was 158 over 100. The technician said that it was common for blood donors to have elevated blood pressure when measured, due to nervousness.

The actual donation process went smoothly although I think the technician didn't put the needle in the best spot, so it hurt a bit for a few seconds, unlike last time when the needle didn't hurt at all. While I was donating blood, I heard my technician talking with another employee about how there is a constant shortage of available blood. While lying there, I thought happily of how my RBC rich blood would soon be helping another person. I wanted to say a lucky person with a pint of "natural lefty" in him or her, but I don't consider needing a blood transfusion to be lucky. In fact, I have been lucky never to have needed one. I have never even been hospitalized, and it's a good thing, too, as finding the O-Negative blood that I would require might be difficult. My blood has always gone from me to other people, not the other way around, and I hope to keep it that way.

When the blood donation process was finished, I was sentient of wanting to see my donated blood, and so I watched as the phlebotomist handled the pint of "natural lefty" blood and the smaller container for blood testing. My blood looked so pretty and corpulent in their containers. I was truly satisfied, although if I had been acting as a capitalist rather than a socialist, I probably would have demanded a king's ransom for my blood. As usual, I felt very good physically as well as mentally and spiritually after giving blood, and in fact, felt as though I could have given another pint without a problem, although that might be a bit risky. As I drove home, the question of the price of blood entered my mind.

I investigated this topic last night, and here is what I found: An average price for a pint of blood is in the $100-$160 range (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/redgold/basics/bloodcollection.html). Whole blood can be separated into 4 components, with the actual red blood cell component being the most expensive by far. Since I have more RBCs than average, and O-Negative blood, my blood should be considerably more expensive than average. Who gets this money? I guess the blood banks such as Lifestream, and all I got for my blood was a coupon for a free cheeseburger at Farmer Boys Restaurant, the irony of which is not lost on me. I don't plan to use the coupon as cheeseburgers are really not something I am into. A little further investigation revealed that annual demand for blood has been increasing at a rate of 6-8% per year, while the blood supply has only increased at a rate of 2-3% per year, resulting in increasing demand for artificial blood, which, being manufactured and sold by private companies, is much more expensive than the natural stuff. Blood substitutes range in price from $300 - $1,000 per pint (http://biomed.brown.edu/Courses/BI108/2006-108websites/group09artificialblood/). There's the wonder of capitalism for you!

I have to wonder what Dr. Charles Drew, an African-American doctor known as the father of the blood bank, would have thought of the price of blood. My African-American graduate school advisor sometimes told me about him, relating that he died because after a car accident, the hospital he was taken to would not treat him because he was black, so he ironically bled to death. According to the website I found about Dr. Drew, however, this was actually not the case. He died when he fell asleep while driving to give a speech at the Tuskegee Institute in 1950. He was treated in a timely fashion but his injuries were too severe for him to survive.

At this time, I can't help but also think of my student of a couple years ago, Carrie Thomas, who bled to death after being shot at an ATM. If only I had been there to give her a pint or two of my blood, she might have survived. Her case has never been solved.

Although we can do nothing now to bring back Dr. Charles Drew or Carrie Thomas, there are people we can help -- even lives we can save -- by acting with society's best interests in mind by donating blood, and in the process, help ourselves. Donating blood is a socialistic act which helps in its own modest but potent way to counteract the capitalist economic and medical system. Thus, my advice to everybody now is: Save lives and fight the system. If you can, give blood!

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