The 46-Gallon Gift

Seeking hope for the holidays?  Consider the following:

Stan has stable chronic leukemia that requires little anticancer treatment.  However, because it has damaged the function of his bone marrow, he requires frequent red blood transfusions.  With those infusions he is able to work, travel and enjoy his family. Without blood, he would die in less than two months.  The other day I was writing the medical order to give him a packed red cell transfusion (PRBC), when Stan made a remarkable observation.  This would be his 368th unit of blood.

If you think about that number, 368 pints of donated blood, it should send shivers up your spine.  This means that 368 people stretched out their arms so that this man can survive.  In a world where we fret about selfishness, corruption, violence and social isolation, this is an incredible act by individuals and our society.  Not convinced?

Each pint of blood requires about 200mg of iron.   In order to get that 200mg of iron we need to eat foods which contain it.  However, because we do not absorb most of the iron in our food, on the average only 10%, that means that we need to eat food containing 2000mg of iron in order to make one unit of blood.  The problem is that there is not a lot of iron in most food.

While super-iron foods such as dried black pepper and parsley may contain 124mg of iron in 100mg of herb, not many of us could stomach the 40-cup serving needed to make one unit of blood.  Clams or oysters are also high on the iron list, but in order to give that one donation one must consume 16 pounds of the shelled beasts.  Liver?  25 pounds.  Spinach?  333 cups.  Tofu?  An entire barrel.  Raisins?  2500 boxes.

Think of it as a giant Christmas Iron Feast; the 368 people who donated to Stan not only gave their time, and weathered discomfort, they purchased, prepared and ate the equivalent of;

–  631 chickens

–  1996 cups of squash

–  44 bushels of peanuts

–  3140 lamb roasts

–  22 bathtubs of cereal

–  8864 chocolate bars

–  17,603 dainty spoons of caviar

–  288,572 prunes

–  A 4 ton loaf of whole wheat bread

–  And a can of tuna the size of a fully loaded and fueled 2005 Ford Excursion Heavy Duty Sports Utility vehicle, with Jet Ski in tow.

Moreover, this is just for Stan.  Over 4 million Americans are saved every year by blood transfusions. Three gallons of blood are transfused every minute.  Over 30,000 units of blood every day in the United States alone.  Around the world 85 million units of blood are donated and infused every year, and the number is rising.  That is a powerful and hopeful statement about the heart and altruism of the human community.

What do all those donors get for their sacrifice?  Nothing, really.  Just the satisfaction of knowing that, just maybe, they are helping another person to live another day.  In Stan’s case, it has been not just days, but years and years.  Even not wrapped, nor bought at a midnight sale, that is a holiday gift beyond measure.



  • Mary
    What about the guy whose wife is in critical surgery and he's waiting in the dreary OR waiting room with her three hyper anxious sisters and he wanders off to "get coffee" and finds the hospital blood donor facility and gives a pint. And a year later at yet another medical center 2,000 miles from home and another critical procedure for his wife, he wanders off again for coffee and gives another pint! (He said it was because they were giving away teddy bears to blood donors and he thought I needed one) Who DOES that?? I can only dream of being half that giving!
  • meyati
    Well the military gives donors a day off. My son on one ship, and he was the only one that donated-but he was the head cook, so he went back to work.
  • Kathleen Denny
    It is a wonderful gift. My mother (RN Class of 1950), who is B+, continues to give blood. She says that most young women really don't have much to spare, and her blood type is in high demand. I am also B+, but they won't take my blood. Why not? Because of my adnexal carcinoma diagnosis in 1974, though I have been considered a cure since 1978, and because I got Hepatitis A while traveling in Central America in the 1980s, and thus have the antibodies. I appreciate the need to keep the blood supply safe. Two friends of ours, hemophiliacs and brothers, died of AIDS contracted from blood products. Still, when my husband (also B+) and I were preparing to go to East Africa in the 1990s, my husband stipulated that, should the need ever arise, I would be his donor.
  • Bill Wickart
    We get cookies, juice, raisins, cute little pins every gallon, and the knowledge that somewhere not too far away, we've made the world a more comfortable place for someone going through a bloody rough time of it. In my case, it's more personal. When my father had his appendectomy in the early 60s, he got a unit with hepatitis. Through a series of coincidences and bad choices, he died from hepatic cirrhosis a few years later. I was *very* glad when the Red Cross got a test for the infection. My stepfather and my mother became the top donors in our small town. I've continued the tradition. Every time I give, I know that I might have saved someone from losing a parent, or a child, or other loved one. There are people such as Kathleen who are excluded for one reason or another; I don't mind giving a little extra. There are things I cannot -- or do not -- do, and those people are covering my share of such activities. I've also met some wonderful people during donations. I currently coordinate with a former co-worker, donating together for mutual support, friendship, and the sheer pleasure of seeing each other a few times a year. One of the best parts is walking around for the rest of the day with this big red "X" on my arm, and occasionally drumming up yet another donor.
  • IBS
    My Mom always gave blood so even though I'm afraid of needles, my friend's son needed my type. My other friends wouldn't, but I did. I had no blood problems at that time, but they told me they couldn't accept me because as a youngster, I had mono. I know so many children that has had mono, and that could be a reason it seems not a lot of people can't...not that they won't want to. Off topic: But I only know about canines. If you have a healthy dog, after an exam and blood work, the doggies can also give blood when it is needed.

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