5 Lifesaving Donations You Can Make with Your Body

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Many people generously donate their time and/or money to help others in their community. When it comes to donating blood, or registering as an organ donor, however, some of those same Good Samaritans turn reluctant. Meanwhile, each year there are literally millions of people in the United States who rely on complete strangers who have donated blood, tissue, bone marrow or an organ. Maybe it’s procrastination that’s kept you from participating. Or maybe, you think you’re too busy. Just remember, your decision to take action in one of these areas could save a life.


5. Donate Blood … Or Better Yet, Host a Blood Drive

The American Red Cross says it needs 38,000 donors a day to maintain its blood supply.

A technician collects a blood donation. ©  Yui.Kubo

We’ve all heard the public service announcements from the Red Cross, asking people to step forward and donate blood to help replenish low supplies. Yet according to America’s Blood Centers, less than 10 percent of the eligible population donates blood annually. It’s estimated that if only 1 percent more of Americans donated, shortages could be eradicated. Donations are especially important during the summer, and the holiday season, when supplies typically run low, but given blood’s short shelf life — blood platelets can be stored about five days — there’s always a need for more. The American Red Cross estimates more than 38,000 blood donations are needed each day to maintain an adequate supply. If you’re a regular blood donor, maybe it’s time to take the next step — organizing a blood drive for your company, church, school or community organization. For more information, visit redcrossblood.org.


4. Sign Up For the National Marrow Donor Program

Bone marrow is a critical element in treating many blood diseases such as leukemia.

A bone marrow collection procedure. Credit: U.S. Navy/Chad McNeeley.

This procedure is more involved than the others on this list, but would you undergo some minor discomfort to literally save someone’s life? The answer for most people is a resounding, “Yes.” Bone marrow and stem cell transplants are used to help combat blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell anemia. Potential donors provide a genetic sample — a fast, easy process — and are added to a national registry that contains millions of would-be donors. If a genetic match is found for your type, you may be asked to donate either peripheral blood stem cells (a PBSC donation), which can be done at a local blood center, or bone marrow, a more involved process that is done under local anesthesia on an outpatient basis. Unfortunately, many leukemia and other blood cancer victims die before finding a match; the National Marrow Donor Program estimates there is only a 1-in-540 chance that someone on the registry will be matched to a potential recipient. The program has helped facilitate more than 50,000 marrow or cord blood transplants since 1987. For more information, visit marrow.org.


3. Donate Your Body to a Medical School

Cadavers are desperated needed for research and medical schools.

Donating your body to science is an unpleasant thought for many. Credit: Flickr

Some people get uneasy or even spooked at the thought of medical researchers, or worse yet, inexperienced medical school students, poking, prodding, slicing and dissecting their lifeless body. Really, does it matter? Imagine that even one medical student using your body to learn basic anatomy goes on to a successful career helping thousands of patients, perhaps saving countless lives. That’s quite a legacy. According to NBC News, medical schools around the country use between 10,000 and 15,000 bodies a year. That’s not to mention the medical researchers who use research on cadavers to search for cures for a variety of diseases. Here’s a link to a state-by-state listing of body-donation programs.


2. Donate Plasma

Plasma is an essential element in blood that can be used to treat numerous diseases.

A technician handles the blood plasma separation process. © Alexander Podshivalov/Dreamstime.com

Fully 55 percent of blood is comprised of plasma, a clear, light-colored solution with amazing properties. Plasma is a vital source of hundreds of proteins such as clotting factors and albumin and antibodies such as immunoglobulins. When extracted from the blood, these compounds can be used in plasma protein therapies to help treat a wide variety of rare neurological and autoimmune disorders such as hemophilia, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and Kawasaki Disease, an early childhood disease that can cause heart damage. In addition, plasma is essential in emergency rooms for treatment of shock, severe burns, and other serious trauma. Because the process used to collect plasma is time-consuming — usually around 90 minutes per session — donors are given a nominal compensation for their time. The U.S. FDA has approved more than 400 plasma donation centers in the United States. To find a center near you, visit donatingplasma.org.


1. Become an Organ Donor

Almost 115,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant.

Number of people awaiting transplants, transplants, and potential organ donors. Credit: HRSA

Perhaps you’ve been asked this question when you renewed your driver’s license: “Do you wish to be an organ donor?” Far too many people nod their head, accept the organ-donation registration information … and never officially register. Becoming an organ donor can have a profound impact on multiple people’s lives. Consider these facts from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
• Each organ donor can save up to eight lives.
• 18 people die each day awaiting an organ transplant.
• Almost 115,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant.
• An average of 79 people a day receive organ transplants.
In addition, the various tissues in a body, such as skin, tendons, heart valves, corneas and more, can be used to help many other people.

Registering to become an organ or tissue donor takes only a few minutes, through this link on organdonor.gov. Officials recommend you specify your intentions to be a donor in multiple ways. Make sure it’s designated on your driver’s license; tell family, friends and your physician of the decision; and specify your desire in your will and living will.


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