The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center (STBTC) is calling on San Antonio to participate in World Blood Donor Week. Donors who register through this STBTC webpage and participate between June 14 and June 20 will receive a $10 gift card to Whataburger or Bill Miller Bar-B-Q.

World Blood Donor Week is an extension of World Blood Donor Day, a World Health Organization initiative that globally encourages blood donations. Despite efforts to make San Antonio one of the top blood donating cities in the country, STBTC reports that the city is 50% below where it should be in donations. STBTC officials estimate that the city is capable of producing nearly 270,000 blood products, but only donated 147,000 products last year. World Blood Donor Week offers an incentivized opportunity to raise those numbers.

Beyond San Antonio, blood donations, medically discussed as blood products once received, are at a 30-year low throughout the United States, according to an infographic shared with the Rivard Report by STBTC. Moreover, blood donation centers are facing increased shortages due to the drop in blood products received during the long summer months.

“A quarter of our donations come from high school students,” said Roger Ruiz, STBTC Corporate Communications Specialist. “These frequent donors who are typically giving throughout the fall, winter, and spring season are on vacation. ”

Demands for blood do not decrease over the summer. Threats from mosquito-borne blood illnesses like Zika and Dengue increase during summer months, and losing the high school base increases the stress of potential blood shortages. Moreover, aging baby boomers who require more surgical procedures also are increasing demands for blood.

“Summer time is make or break,” Ruiz said. “When we have a depleted blood supply, we call that critical. Hospitals will then eventually start telling people that have elected for surgery that [their procedure] may be put on hold. We would start having to ask for help from other blood centers and cities across South Texas. That’s going to be kind of scary when we get to that time. We’re close to that, but not there.”

STBTC values the community outreach offered by Whataburger and Bill Miller Bar-B-Q since people sometimes need incentives to donate, Ruiz said. Beyond the promise of a free meal, donating blood offers other benefits.

“We have a wellness check [for donors],” Ruiz said. “Some people don’t really realize what this does. It goes through the process of what we used to call a mini physical. You get your heart rate checked, your blood pressure, and weight. We want to make sure our blood donors are healthy.”

Barriers to donating blood exist. Ruiz recognizes that individuals worry that they may not be eligible to give because of a recently received tattoo, piercing, or because of outstanding health concerns such as a chronic illness or medication regimen.

The basic requirements for donating blood are that you are in good general health, be at least 17 years of age (or 16 years of age with a parental consent form) and weigh 110 pounds (or 120 if 16 years of age). Potential donors should consult their local blood center on their concerns for donating as FDA rules are frequently changing, Ruiz said.

There are a number of folks who are scared of the needle, according to Ruiz.

“Yes, you’re going to be poked one time, which feels like an ant bite and you’re scared,” Ruiz said. “But imagine the person that’s going to be receiving your donation. They’re being poked hundreds of times a week to treat whatever illness they have. They don’t have a choice. You visit children’s hospitals and you’ll see them having IVs and getting blood transfusions, and they don’t have a choice.”

Even though most donors don’t actually meet the patients who receive their blood donation, the should rest assured knowing that they’ve made a difference, Ruiz said.

“You are actually a hero to that family and that patient because you gave them a chance to fight through whatever illness they have. Walking away with that, I think, is one of the greatest feelings you’ll have.”

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Jeffrey Sullivan

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.