Busting common myths about donating blood

By Samantha Pudeslki, American Red Cross volunteer

Have you always assumed you can’t donate blood? You’re not alone. There are a lot of people who may think they cannot donate, but actually can. Here are a few of the most common myths around blood donation restrictions and the facts you need to know.

Myth #1: You can’t donate blood if you have a tattoo and/or body piercing.

Fact: You can donate blood if you have tattoos and/or body piercings. If you recently had a tattoo and it was applied in a state-regulated/licensed tattoo facility using sterile needles and the ink was not reused, you may not have to wait to give blood. Those who are certain a sterile needle was used for a body piercing also may not need to wait. Otherwise, you must wait one year after receiving a tattoo or body piercing.

Myth #2: You can’t donate blood if you take regular medications.

Fact: In almost all cases, medications won’t disqualify you as a blood donor. Instead, your eligibility is based on the reason the medication was prescribed. As long as the condition is under control and you are healthy, blood donation is usually permitted. If you are unsure, visit our eligibility page at RedCrossBlood.org..

Myth #3: You can’t donate blood if you are a diabetic.

Fact: Diabetics who are well controlled on insulin or oral medications are eligible to donate.

Myth #4: You can’t donate blood if you have had cancer.

Fact: It depends on the type of cancer and your treatment history. Those who have had leukemia or lymphoma, including Hodgkin’s disease and other cancers of the blood are not eligible. With most other types of cancers, you are able to donate blood if it the cancer has been treated successfully and it has been more than 12 months since treatment. Cleveland city councilman Kevin Conwell is once again a regular donor, after winning a battle with cancer. Read his story here.

Myth #5: I am too old or too young to donate.

Fact: You must be 17 years old or 16 years old with parental/guardian consent to donate blood, if allowed by state law. There is no age limit for older adults as long as you are healthy and meet the other criteria.

Myth #6: You can’t donate blood if you have travelled outside of the U.S.

Fact: While there are some travel restrictions in place, they are very specific to the location and time period that the individual spent there. If you have questions about eligibility, you can call 866-236-3276 to speak with an eligibility specialist about your travel.

For more facts around the blood donation process, visit the American Red Cross FAQ page. Ready to donate? Visit our website to find an upcoming drive near you.

If you are someone who is unable to donate blood, there are other ways you can support the cause! The Northern Ohio Region of Red Cross relies on volunteers to help with essential tasks like registration to make sure blood drives run smoothly. To learn more about volunteer opportunities in Northern Ohio, click here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Don’t assume you can’t donate blood

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

“You can’t do that!”

He heard it more than once, from more than one well-wishing, but uninformed friend and acquaintance.

Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell represents Ward 9, including Glenville and part of University Circle, north of Euclid Avenue. Honored in Washington as National Father of the Year, Conwell has served on City Council since 2001.

Conwell was a frequent blood donor, repeatedly donating since 2004. “I would donate as often as I could,” said Conwell. “We often held blood drives right in the lobby of city hall, that made it easy for us to donate.”

Then Conwell was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2013. With quick detection of the cancer, and treatment at the Cleveland Clinic, Conwell kicked the disease and has been cancer-free for a number of years.

“When I talked about donating again, friends would repeatedly tell me, ‘You can’t donate blood after receiving chemotherapy. There’s no way.’”

Then Conway got a phone call from the American Red Cross, asking if they could schedule a blood donation for him.

“You don’t want my blood,” he said. “I’ve had chemo treatments for colon cancer.”

“Are you still receiving chemo treatments?” the operator asked.

“No, I’ve been done with those for a couple years,” Conway replied.

“Well, good then. Let me make you an appointment. You are clear to donate,” explained the operator.

And he did. And he continues to donate.

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“I tell everyone I talk to at City Council that ‘Yes, you can donate after colon cancer.’ They are usually surprised.”

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It’s a common misconception that certain infections, afflictions or diseases will disqualify you from donating. But don’t assume. There’s an easy way to find out for sure.

Call the Red Cross Donor Suitability line at 1-866-236-3276. Tell them any health concerns you have, and a trained professional will be able to tell you whether you can donate today or if maybe you need to wait a certain amount of time before you donate.

There’s a severe shortage of blood and platelets this year. With the severe winter weather we experienced, many blood drives had to be canceled. Even before that, there was a great demand for blood following many of the national disasters late last year.

Make the call. Only about 40 percent of the population can donate, and merely 10 percent of them actually do.

Make an appointment to give blood or platelets by downloading the free Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Editor’s note: Councilman Conwell’s story has been shared on the national Red Cross website, with the hope of reaching a wider audience with his message.  You can access the story here.