One of my most rewarding volunteer responsibilities is to organize a blood drive at St. Francis Episcopal Church on Thursday, July 22, a task I have done for the last six years. Becky Barclay’s excellent article on Friday, July 2, in this newspaper has inspired this look at blood itself and the special vocabulary attached to it and to blood donation.

Here are some “Did-you-know?” facts about blood from the website

•The human body contains about 8 pints of blood, but this number varies from 8 to 10 pints in the average person. A newborn has about one cup of blood in his or her body.

•Blood volume makes up 8% of body weight; circulating blood contains 55% plasma, 40% red blood cells, 4% platelets, and 1% while blood cells. Of all the immune cells, the type called neutrophils are the most abundant. Neutrophils are released during infections, allergic reactions, and asthma.

•Blood is red in humans but not in some other organisms like crustaceans, spiders, squid, and octopuses that have blue blood. Some worms and leeches have green blood, while some insects — beetles and butterflies — have colorless or pale-yellowish blood. Hemoglobin, a respiratory protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to cells by way of the circulatory system, causes human blood to be red. Low hemoglobin counts are the most common reason people are deferred from giving blood.

•White blood cells, in addition to contributing to a strong immune system, are essential for pregnancy to occur. Specific types of white blood cells called macrophages in reproductive system tissues help develop blood vessel networks in the ovary vital to produce progesterone. This hormone has a critical role in implanting an embryo in the uterus — a fact that gives new meaning to the American Red Cross motto, “Give blood, give life.”

•Human blood contains metal atoms, including iron, chromium, manganese, zinc, lead, copper, and small amounts of gold — about 0.2 milligrams.

•About 95% of our blood cells are produced in the bone marrow concentrated in the breastbone, the spine, and the pelvis. All cellular blood components derive from stem cells; the process by which the body manufactures blood cells is called hematopoiesis.

•Several other organs help in the production of blood cells, including the liver, lymphatic system, lymph nodes, spleen, and thymus (the gland in the chest between the lungs and behind the sternum in front of and just above the heart).

•Red blood cells circulate in the body for about four months, platelets for nine days, and white blood cells from a few hours to several days. This fact about red blood cells explains the American Red Cross policy of accepting blood donations only if eight weeks have passed between donations.

Curious about which states have the greatest number of donors, I consulted the website which listed the states according to the number of blood donation centers each state offers. Idaho led the list with 3.5 facilities per million residents. North Dakota, with a smaller population, offers 4 facilities per million residents. Alaska; Washington, D.C.; Florida; Rhode Island; and Louisiana followed.


Dr. Karl Landsteiner, an Austrian biologist, physician, and immunologist, discovered the four main blood groups in 1901: A, B, O, and AB. At the University of Vienna where he was a student, Landsteiner published an essay about the influence of diets on the composition of blood. Later he found out that blood transfusion between two people with the same blood group did not destroy blood cells as it did with transfusions between two people of different blood types. Based on his findings, the first successful blood transfusion occurred at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York in 1907 under the direction of Reuben Ottenburg.

Landsteiner, called “the father of transfusion medicine,” received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1930. His study into the infectious nature of poliomyelitis led to the isolation of the polio virus, a discovery which gave him a posthumous induction into the Polio Hall of Fame at Warm Springs, Georgia.

Today the American Red Cross recognizes eight blood types, the four Landsteiner found and A negative and positive, B negative and positive, O negative and positive, and AB negative and positive. O positive is the most common blood type in the United States, while A positive is the most common in Japan. The least common blood type is AB negative. AB is the universal recipient while O negative is the universal donor of red blood cells.


Most blood donors give because they want to help others. They want to help the more than 4.5 million patients that need blood transfusions every year in the United States and Canada. They want to help those who need blood every two seconds; for children being treated for cancer; for premature infants; for mothers who lose blood during delivery of their babies; for open heart surgical patients; for sickle cell disease patients; for anemic patients; for organ transplant patients. One pint — or unit of blood — can save up to three lives.

Other reasons include help for ourselves. Red Cross labs perform 13 different tests on each unit of donated blood. The mini-physical examination/medical history done on-site reveals whether we have a fever or a low hemoglobin count, indication a lack of iron in our bodies. If our blood pressure is too high, we are deferred and advised to see our doctor.

One of the regrets my husband Dave and I live with is that we can no longer give blood because of issues those 13 tests found in our blood. Dave began giving blood in the Air Force, amassing a total donation of 17 gallons. I was able to donate longer, totaling 20-plus gallons, so we have done our share, I suppose. Becky Barclay’s article listed seven sites in Wayne County where you can give blood — an hour of your time and a renewable resource — blood — that replaces its fluid in hours and its red blood cells in four weeks. It’s time to give. Please.

Liz Meador is a retired English instructor from Wayne Community College and an adjunct at North Carolina Wesleyan College.