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How donating blood helps saves lives

Urban Cornett, MD, Memorial Hospital Family Medicine Residency

First-year Memorial Hospital Family Medicine Residency program physician Urban Cornett, MD, sees the immediate effects of blood donation in his work throughout the hospital.

“Many patients that I work with are bleeding or have a low red blood count,” Dr. Cornett said. “I also see the symptoms of this, including fatigue and weakness. By giving our patients blood, we are able to decrease their symptoms and sometimes, in very acute emergencies, your blood is the difference between life and death.”

January is National Blood Donor Month, but the need for blood extends throughout the year. And this year, more than ever, the need is immense.

Dr. Cornett cited a 40% decrease in donations over the last 20 years by the American Red Cross. The organization issued an “emergency blood shortage” earlier this month.

“In the United States, a person needs a lifesaving blood transfusion every 2 seconds,” he explained. “Unfortunately, the decreasing number of donations has increased the likelihood that hospitals and outpatient facilities that treat cancer and sickle cell disease patients might not have the blood supply they need.”

A regular donor himself, Dr. Cornett answers questions below about donating and offers some helpful information and advice.

What would you say to individuals who are considering donating blood but just haven’t made the commitment yet?

The hardest thing, in my opinion, is making that first trip to a blood donation center because we don’t know what to expect and we never see our blood being used toward patients.

I think it is important to remember that giving blood can be life-changing for someone, and they might not know who to thank, but they are always thankful. I also picture my family members needing blood and how would I feel if they were not able to get blood. This image alone helps me realize that there are families who are thinking that as I am giving blood, and that inspires me to go even more.

Do you have any tips on how to prepare to donate?

  • Try to make sure you are eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Also try to limit high-fat foods such as hamburgers or ice cream.
  • Drink water to become well-hydrated in the days leading up to donating blood. I always drinking an extra 16 oz. of water before I leave my house or office to go to donate blood. Hydration makes it easier to find a vein to draw blood and minimizes the risk of multiple needle sticks during the donation process.
  • Relaxing is key. Donating blood can take 10–15 minutes. Bring a book, your favorite music, or something that you like to do to stay relaxed and help pass the time.
  • Avoid doing any strenuous exercises before and after donating blood for at least that day.
  • Make sure you are well. If you are feeling under the weather on the day of your donating blood, please call and reschedule it. We do not want you to be sick while donating blood. It is always easy to reschedule a day to donate blood.

Are there individuals who definitely shouldn’t donate blood?

The list below is not comprehensive — there are numerous other things that can prevent a person temporarily from donating blood. Please discuss all questions with your primary care physician if you have concerns. This article provides a great overview of the donation process as well as criteria of who can and cannot donate. When you donate, you’ll need to complete a health questionnaire, too.

  • In general, people with heart conditions need to discuss with their provider and the American Red Cross if they are eligible to donate blood.
  • Individuals who have tested positive for HIV, Hepatitis C and/or Hepatitis B should not donate blood.
  • People who have received oral PrEP or PEP for HIV in the last 3 months are not allowed to give blood. If those PrEP/PEP medications were injected, you will not be able to donate blood for two years.
  • Per American Red Cross guidelines, people who have received a transfusion are able to donate blood a year after the transfusions.
  • If you have traveled or lived in a malaria risk country, you are not able to donate blood for 3 years after you have returned from that county.


  • Those with too high or too low iron levels cannot donate. You will have your iron level tested as a part of the pre-donation screening process.
  • You should wait for at least 4 weeks to donate if you’ve received a vaccine with a live infectious agent such as measles, shingles and chicken pox.
  • If you’ve had a tattoo done in a state that does not enforce certain tattooing standards, you need to wait for 12 months before donating blood.
  • If you’ve had cosmetic treatments that used needles, you need to wait at least 4 months before donating.

Are there any benefits to being a blood donor?

  • You receive a mini-health screening as part of the donation process. The donation team checks your vital signs such as your blood pressure and pulse, and you complete a health questionnaire. You might learn about a condition about which you were previously unaware.
  • You can learn your blood type after you’ve donated. About a third of Americans don’t know their blood type. Knowing your blood type can help you in some emergency situations, if you need to have surgery or if you are planning to become pregnant.
  • Giving is its own reward. Blood donation provides a way to actively engage with your community. Just like volunteering your time for other worthy causes, donating blood boosts your sense of altruism, which can lead to a stronger sense of connection.


Don’t wait to give

Find opportunities to donate blood through the South Bend Medical Foundation at:

Let our Beacon doctors care for you

Your primary care provider can talk with you about your ability to give blood and what you can do to keep your own blood quality at an optimal level.

Need to find a provider? No matter your need or age, our primary care doctors are here to treat your medical needs. If you’re looking for a new family doctor, Beacon Health System is here to serve you. Use our provider search tool to find a physician.



About Laura Bailey

Laura is a communications specialist at Beacon Health System. She enjoys sharing stories with the community about the talented team members at Beacon and winning against the computer in Scrabble.