The Perfect Gift

Are you stressing out about finding the perfect gift for a loved one?

What if you could give something priceless without trudging through a crowded store — and it wouldn’t cost you a thing?

You won’t be able to wrap it, but it will keep giving long after the holidays are over.

It’s the gift of life — blood.

You might think you don’t have time in the rush of the holidays to give blood. Donations do slow down during this time of year. But with more people on the roads, traffic accidents rise, meaning the demand for blood goes up as well.

“The donor pool goes down, but demand goes up,” said Odette Struys, who handles communications and public relations for The Blood Alliance. So going into the holidays, a larger amount of blood is needed on the shelf.

The Blood Alliance is a nonprofit community blood center that provides blood to more than 40 hospitals and medical facilities in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. It is the only provider of blood to Northeast Florida hospitals. The blood they collect locally is used to treat local patients.

It only takes about an hour to give blood; much of that is the pre-physical, which includes answering questions on a form and a finger-prick test checking for iron and hemoglobin. The actual drawing process takes about 10 minutes for most people.

In that short amount of time, one pint of blood provided can save the lives of three people. Each donation of whole blood is broken down into red blood cells, plasma and platelets that can serve three different people. In the past, when someone was admitted to a hospital and needed blood, the patient was given whole blood. Now, they can just give the patient a transfusion of the needed blood component.

You can choose to donate platelets in a process in which the volume taken is replaced by saline. It takes 90 minutes, but Struys said people come in and read a book or watch TV and eat popcorn. That process allows them to donate every two weeks.

“They know that they’re saving people,” Struys said.

For whole blood donations, you must wait 56 days before you can give again. But many people give once and never go back.

“They think when they donate, that’s it, that they’ve done their share,” said Robert Sanchez, director of donor resources and marketing for The Blood Alliance.

Of the 60 percent of healthy Americans who can donate blood, only 5 percent do. In Jacksonville, that number is closer to 2 or 3 percent, according to Struys.

If donors gave two times per year, The Blood Alliance says shortages could be prevented. They must collect blood from more than 360 donors every day to meet the needs of area hospitals. On average, about 280 people donate blood locally each day. That’s a big gap between demand and supply.

Special events like the annual Jacksonville Jaguars Gift of Life Blood Drive help bring in a lot more donors. With more than 1,000 people registered to donate last year, the Florida Association of Blood Banks recognized the event as the state’s most productive blood drive. This year, The Blood Alliance has set a goal of 1,500 donations for the Dec. 11 event.

Enticements at special events can help people get over the excuses they often cite for not giving blood — fear of needles being the biggest example. Struys gave the example of a 2-year-old boy whose blood disease required him to have transfusions every two weeks. “What’s the pain of one little prick compared to that?” she said.

Sanchez said another reason people don’t give is that no one ever asked them to donate. He said until someone has a personal reason to donate, such as a sick friend or family member in need, it’s not a real issue to that person.

There’s one more great reason to donate blood this month. The Blood Alliance is donating $1 to The Joshua Frase Foundation for each blood donation made at any donor center (not including blood drives on bloodmobiles) throughout the month of December. Frase died Dec. 24, 2010, at the age of 15, of myotubular myopathy, a genetic error that causes abnormal development of muscle cells of a baby in the womb. As these children grow, they experience muscle weakness that makes simple tasks like eating, breathing and crawling impossible for most; 50 percent of these children never live to the age of 2. His father Paul Frase, a former Jaguars defensive lineman, started The Joshua Frase Foundation to help discover the causes of and cures for this deadly disorder.

The Blood Alliance is also donating $5 for every 50 online accumulated ePoints donated back by donors this month in the Hero Rewards Store located under eDonor at Last year, The Blood Alliance raised about $7,000 for the foundation.

Several members of my family donate blood together a few times a year, including during the holidays. For me, it’s as much a tradition as sticking a dollar in every Salvation Army kettle I pass. It’s a fun way to spend a little time together away from the hustle and bustle and know we’re doing something good. Plus, they shower you with juice and snacks!

Here’s an idea: You could ask people to donate blood to an account in your name instead of giving presents.

Whatever your reasons for giving, The Blood Alliance needs your donation. And it won’t cost you a thing, except a little of your time.

“We’re the only provider of blood,” Struys said. “What happens if they don’t donate? Where will the blood come from?”