By Bill Webb
Residents of Columbia mourned the death of a young police officer -- Molly Bowden -- earlier this month. She was fired on during a traffic stop on Jan. 10 by a gunman who later took his own life. She battled to overcome wounds to her neck and shoulder until she died on Feb. 10.
Molly Bowden became the first Columbia police officer ever to die as a result of injuries suffered in the line of duty. One of the disconcerting reports that came out after the 26-year-old mother of two suffered her wounds was that blood needed to replace what she lost was not immediately available in Columbia. It had to be transported from St. Louis.
Blood shortages in American communities simply should not be. Whole blood and blood platelets are readily available in any community that has more than a handful of people -- but only if donated voluntarily to help a people in crisis.
The American Red Cross and other entities that collect blood routinely appeal for people to step forward to counter dwindling blood supplies. They should not have to beg. Blood is needed for emergencies and for people who have cancer, blood disorders, sickle cell anemia and other illnesses. Some people need regular transfusions to live. All of us know friends and loved ones who have experienced this need. The Red Cross says that 5 million people a year receive blood transfusions.
Surely most people who could give blood but do not are not operating out of selfish motives. Many simply are not aware of the need or are not aware that they could make a difference with little time, effort or discomfort.
Here are a few answers to commonly asked questions about sharing the gift of life through giving a pint of blood:
-- A person who is at least 17 years of age is eligible to donate blood.
-- Donors may give blood as often as every 56 days. Each pint will help one person, but blood products from that pint might help as many as three people live.
-- The process of giving blood takes about an hour. It begins with registration, a health history and a mini-physical to ensure the would-be donor is able to successfully donate and that his/her blood is safe. The actual donation takes 10-12 minutes, followed by a few minutes in a canteen where juices, water, cookies and other snacks are available.
-- Some worry that giving up a pint of blood will make them weak. The average body has 10-12 pints of blood. The vast majority of donors will not feel any different after giving. A small percentage will experience temporary dizziness. The body replaces the lost floods within 24 hours.
-- Blood is rigorously tested for safety before it is released for use.
-- Patients scheduled for surgery may submit blood for themselves before non-emergency surgery. If not used, it is discarded. Family and friends may make directed donations. If not used by the intended patient, that blood can be released for use by other patients.
-- Donors may direct their blood to the military in this country or the world where it is most needed. When it cannot be routed specifically to military personnel, it will be sent to areas of critical need.
There is lifesaving and healing power in blood. If you are giving already, you already feel the joy of helping others in critical need. If you haven't started, what are you waiting for? You can help people live.