As professional triathlete Jordan Rapp knows, blood on the shelf saves lives. Here's a breakdown of the whys and hows.
Jordan Rapp is a professional triathlete and one of the best long-course athletes in the sport. For those of you who don't know, he had a horrific bike accident when he was involved in a hit-and-run crash in 2010. He had multiple fractures, abrasions, lacerations and significant blood loss. He was injured so badly that he was initially placed in the intensive care unit and had significant blood loss requiring transfusion. "Two pints of A+," according to a recent email from Rapp.
"Blood on the shelf saves lives," says Beth Hartwell, former Blood Bank Director at the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Institute. "Each donation can help save three lives." Dr. Hartwell looks upon those who give blood as her "heroes. Their blood is going to an anonymous person in need. How cool is that?"
An athlete's concerns
With our healthy pedigree, triathletes are the perfect candidates for donating blood. It doesn't matter if it's the Red Cross or your local blood service—giving is the goal. Did you know that less than 10 percent of the population gives blood annually, for the benefit of 100 percent of us?
As an athlete, your first concern is how long it takes to return to pre-donation blood levels. That depends on specifically what you donate. For example, scientific studies have shown that if you donate plasma, the liquid part of the blood, or platelets, the cells that help blood clot, but not the oxygen carrying red blood cells, you’ll be back to normal in 48 hours. Even if you give whole blood (including the red blood cells), within a week or two you shouldn't see a difference in your training from pre-donation, although a 100 percent correction in your hemoglobin level will take about five to seven weeks.
There are many reasons not to give blood, such as a needle stick, a few days of sub-maximal training, rumors from the uninformed, to name a few. But there's never a shortage of reasons to give. Blood is used for patients getting dialysis, heart surgery, children with cancer, trauma victims, etc. Think about how frequently you read about one of our own colliding with a vehicle, or another cyclist. And blood is always available when we need it.
Your first time: What to expect
So what happens when you, an athlete, go to donate for the very first time? You'll register and answer a few confidential questions to make sure the donation is right for them and right for you. They'll take your pulse, temperature and blood pressure. If this were a triathlon, consider that the swim. T1 is getting your arm really clean and prepping it for the blood draw. The bike, actually having the collection bag fill, takes only a few minutes—faster than some of us complete a an IRONMAN transition! In T2 they wrap your arm with a colorful "Why yes I did just give blood, thanks for asking," band. Then you run to the snack area where you can have unlimited Oreos, Fig Newtons, and juice, and in 10 minutes you're back on the sidewalk ready for action—a new PR for sure.
Imagine how good you'll feel doing something for others. And it's only April—many of us aren't even in racing season yet, making it an ideal time to give. Dr. Hartwell says that the infrequent donor will be ready to race at 100 percent in two months, the regular donor in three. And for those of you who are afraid of needles, the small prick of the skin is outweighed by the accomplishment you’ll feel at the end. Did I mention the Oreos?
So get out the phone book and find the nearest place to give. You'll be glad you did. Just ask Jordan Rapp.
John Post is a six-time IRONMAN World Championship finisher and the medical advisor for TrainingBible Coaching
Athlete comments from the website that you may find encouraging.