June 14 marks the World Health Organization’s World Blood Donor Day, which was established to raise awareness of the need for a safe blood supply and to thank blood donors for their lifesaving donations. I’ve donated dozens of units of blood over the past three decades, a value instilled in me by my mother. Because she had the rarest of blood types, she was called upon often to donate blood in emergencies. The gift was returned, however, as she then received numerous transfusions before she died. Given my connection to giving blood, World Blood Donor Day hits close to home.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) website, the theme of the 2012 World Blood Donor Day campaign, “Every blood donor is a hero,” focuses on the idea that each of us can become a hero by giving blood “recognizing the silent and unsung heroes who save lives every day through their blood donations… The theme also strongly encourages more people all over the world to donate blood voluntarily and regularly.” Amen.
World Blood Donor Day was established in the same year I moved to Israel. Since then, my awareness of the need for Israel to have a safe and abundant blood supply has grown, and because of the unique nature of Israeli society and threats Israel faces, this also hits very close to home.
As the source of 97 percent of Israel’s blood, MDA’s National Blood Center literally is the lifeblood of the state and people of Israel. Not only do I donate as often as possible, but it was a particularly meaningful milestone the day I took my oldest daughter to do so, following the tradition and value that my mother instilled in me.
Like all countries, Israel needs blood for routine surgeries and procedures. I know many people whose lives were saved, of course, because the doctors who treated them were extraordinarily competent. But without the blood required, they wouldn’t have made it. This isn’t something to take for granted.
Israel has a sad and frustratingly high rate of deaths related to car accidents. For each death, there are any number of others who are injured and treated, and whose lives are saved by the blood they receive.
Israel also has a unique threat in the form of terrorism or war, literally from every front. For all the nearly 24,000 deaths Israel has suffered from terrorism and war combined, many, many more have been injured, and many of them have literally been saved because of the blood they received. These include soldiers defending Israel on the front line, and men, women, and children of all ages who were targeted on the home front.
Unlike where I grew up and lived throughout most of my blood-donating life, Israel also lives in an area where we cannot rely on our neighbors for help if there were a shortage. When I lived in Georgia, if there were a blood shortage, we could get blood from Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida. In New York and New Jersey, we could get blood from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and even from far-away Delaware.
Israel is also unique because of its diverse population of Christian, Moslem, and Druze Arabs, along with a diverse Jewish population. While our detractors may say otherwise, it’s a great source of pride that all Israelis benefit equally from the blood collected in Israel, and all Israelis participate equally in donating blood as well. I have witnessed Arabs and Jews, lying on beds side-by-side, donating blood. A visit to any Israeli surgical ward will find an equal mix of Arab and Jewish patients receiving blood that may have been donated by the other.
Donating blood is truly giving the gift of life. As a good friend who happened to need some blood once suggested, it’s a miracle of God’s creation that one person can give something so basic and precious as blood to another total stranger, and save that person’s life. It’s especially incredible that the human body can regenerate blood and that people can donate multiple times every year
As the WHO notes, blood donors are heroes. Let’s give thanks to them and those who give the resources to make it possible, and hope that more and more people are inspired to participate in this selfless and heroic act, because, as with any gift, it’s better to give than to receive.