The American Red Cross helps millions of people in their battle back to good health every year through its Blood Services program, a service which began more than 50 years ago.
Every year, the American Red Cross collects more than six million units of blood from about 3.5 million volunteer blood donors. From their donations, the Red Cross is able to distribute about 9 million blood products to patients in approximately 3,000 hospitals and transfusion centers across the country.
American Red Cross Blood Services began during World War II. England was facing possible invasion and officials realized massive quantities of blood would be needed for both the military and civilians. The U.S. Armed Forces asked the Red Cross to create and operate a national blood donor program to collect blood for shipment to the British Isles. The first bloodmobile visited the Farmingdale, New York Red Cross Chapter on March 10, 1941.
After the war, few hospitals had blood banks. Many relied on direct transfusion from donor to patient. In 1947, the Red Cross Board of Governors approved the introduction of a national civilian blood program, the largest peacetime health project undertaken by the organization. The first regional blood center opened in Rochester, New York in 1948.
During the 1960s, Blood Services began to focus on research with the establishment of Red Cross laboratories. A small lab in Washington, D.C. was expanded to study how to better preserve blood components. A lab was established in Los Angeles to work on automated blood grouping. A lab was established at New York University to develop a product to help people with hemophilia. By 1963 the lab in Washington was at capacity and a new 22,000-square-foot building was leased in Bethesda, Maryland to accommodate expanding blood research.
During the 1970s, Red Cross scientists developed methods to freeze red blood cells and developed testing for Hepatitis B. Processes were developed to test blood for purity and a uniform bar code was developed to identify blood products. At the same time, apheresis became a part of the blood program, an effort to collect platelets which continues today. In 1987, the Holland Laboratory was dedicated in Rockville, Maryland to house thriving Red Cross research and development programs.
Today Red Cross Blood Services collects and distributes about 40 percent of the nation's blood supply. To meet the needs of the patients who need blood, the Red Cross needs to collect about 140,000 units of blood every week. If there is a large disaster, the need may be even greater. Anyone interested in giving blood or who would like information about becoming a blood donor can visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS.
Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental permission in some states), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in general good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements. Individuals should bring their Red Cross blood donor card or other form of positive ID when coming to donate.