Blood Center Lowers Minimum Age

The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center -- always looking for ways to attract blood donors -- has lowered the minimum age to give blood to 16. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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Blood centers all over the country have accepted 17 year olds as blood donors for years, and many also allow 16 year olds with parental permission. Gulf Coast Blood Center Medical Director officer Dr. Susan Rossman says 16 year olds are mature enough to donate, physically and psychologically, so it makes sense to accept them.

"We have found that high school donors are very enthusiastic donors. We have a Power-of-Life Program that accounts for a substantial portion of our donations. They're very healthy donors, and they're very anxious to contribute to the community. Many centers have had a long history of using 16 year old donors in other states and it's been very successful."

Even so, Dr. Rossman says 16 year olds must have their parents' permission to donate, which is good because it gets parents involved in their teenager's decisions and activities. She believes it's also a good way for teenagers to be involved in their community.

"For one thing it's a very direct way. If you give a whole blood donation you can help, directly, up to three people. And there's not very many things that any of us in our lives can do in a very direct way to affect other peoples' lives that directly."

Rossman says summer is coming up fast, and summers are always slow for blood centers, so they won't be able to gauge the effectiveness of the lower age limit till later in the year.

"One of the reasons it's a tough time is because we don't have our usual high school and college drives. The other reason, of course, is that people are on vacation, and not at home, and just not thinking about donating blood in the usual way. We will probably see more effects from it, really, next fall."

Dr. Rossman says blood centers everywhere need more donors because the population is growing, and more hospitals are being built because of the aging baby boomer generation. Center officials think the lower age limit will bring in about three thousand more donations a year, which is just a small fraction of the estimated 290 thousand donations they expect to need to meet this year's demand. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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