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Mares: Giving Blood

07/05/12 7:55AM By Bill Mares
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(Host) Writer Red Smith once said it’s easy to write. You just sit down at the typewriter, open a vein and bleed. Commentator Bill Mares is an educator, writer and former state legislator who recently sat down and opened a vein for charity.

(Mares) As I drove through the University of Vermont recently, I couldn’t miss the Red Cross signs: “Critical Need,” “Free Sox Lottery tickets," “Give the gift of life,” “Do more than remember — Give blood”

So I answered the call, and I gave my 87th pint of blood. No big deal, really. I considered it an anniversary of sorts. I had first given blood when I was 17, and now the state of Vermont had just lowered the permissible age to 16.

The Blood Center is a cheerful, bustling place – kind of like a hospital where nobody is sick.

Across Vermont the Red Cross draws about 50,000 pints a year. Nationally it collects approximately 6.3 million pints of blood from roughly 3.7 million volunteer donors - which means about half of them, like me, give more than once a year. In the last two months, I learned, 150 Vermont 16-year-olds have rolled up their sleeves to donate for the first time.

When I began giving blood, it was a very simple process. They asked you if you felt well and checked your blood pressure, pulse and temperature – as well as your iron level.

How times have changed! Now there are ten pages of instructions, descriptions and questions. Have you taken growth hormones or been exposed to maladies like babesiosis, or Cruetzfeldt-Jacob disease? Have you been out of country five years or more since 1980? And, because of the AIDS epidemic, there are lots of questions about your sex life.

I’m surrounded by first-time donors who joke nervously among themselves. For a beekeeper like me, the needle stick is less painful than the stings to which I’m well-accustomed. In twenty minutes I’m done, and in the “recovery area” I launch a private survey of why others want to collect this red badge of courage.

One person says it’s the friendly persuasion of co-workers. Another is giving on behalf of someone who needs blood in surgery. And another says, “Well, for every gallon you get a little pin.”

On a Red Cross Web web site an anonymous donor wrote:

I give blood because I can.
I can help that little bit.
All it costs ME is my time
And that time can save a life.
I only wish I could do more
And someday maybe I will.
But for now
I give blood because I can.
Can you?

In their brilliant book, Freakonomics, Steven Leavitt and Stephen Dubner cite a study that found that when people receive a small amount of money for giving blood, donations actually fall. The authors theorize that “the stipend turned a noble act of charity into a painful way to make a few dollars, and it wasn’t worth it.”

My favorite reason for giving came from a guy who said he had wasted enough blood in childhood accidents and high school football so that now he wanted to do something useful with it!
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