Minimum age for blood donors will be lowered
SIKESTON -- Missouri's blood donor pool will soon expand.
A new law approved by the state legislature lowers the minimum age for blood donors to 16 with parental consent, according to Freida Cardwell, chairman of the American Red Cross blood services for the Sikeston area.
"With our low blood drive turnout, we're hoping this will increase the number of units we can place on the shelves," Cardwell said. "That will make a big difference in the amount of units we receive at Sikeston High School and other local schools and also our community blood drives."
"It's exciting for us," said Jim Williams, regional manager of communications for the American Red Cross Blood Services. "If everything goes as planned, we look forward to seeing a lot of young faces rolling up their sleeves and giving blood."
Williams said he is not sure when they will be able to actually start accepting donations from 16-year-olds.
"The law goes into effect Monday but at the American Red Cross we have to go through some steps to do that," he said. "We're doing everything in our power to get there as soon as possible."
Williams said there is "change process" paperwork to complete to "make sure it's up to FDA standards and Red Cross standards."
The Food and Drug Administration has allowed donations by those age 16 for some time, providing they meet the other requirements, but each state ultimately makes its own decision.
"It's already been approved and is being implemented in Illinois," Cardwell noted. As for Missouri, "we're very optimistic it will be by the first of the year," she said.
"Right now, the age is 17 or older and the general guidelines are to weigh at least 110 pounds and be in general good health," Williams said.
Donors who are 17 years old just need to show an ID.
"A 16-year-old would have to have a signed parental consent form," he said.
All donors, regardless of age, must meet the general requirements.
The minimum age is not being lowered even further to allow 14- and 15-
year-olds because they usually haven't reached the minimum body mass yet, Williams said.
"Your typical 16-year-old is going to weigh 110 pounds," he explained.
"We have a lot of students from the high school that come out to work at the blood drives, but up to this point they have not been able to donate because they were not old enough," Cardwell said. "With this new procedure implemented, they can come out and work at the blood drive and give blood."
"Once 16-year-olds are eligible to donate and the system is up and running, it is going to add significantly to the pool of donors," Williams said. "It's going to add tens of thousands of potential donors in the state of Missouri alone."
And the Red Cross desperately needs those donors.
"We've just really seen a decline since 9/11," Cardwell said. "Immediately following 9/11 my phone rang off the wall with agencies, civic groups wanting to hold blood drives but it has steadily declined. I just feel like when people don't see it directly in the media, and it's not in their face, it's so easy for them to forget. They get busy in their daily schedules and think it's not affecting them."
Once the program is up and running for 16-year-olds, the idea is to "give them the best experience possible so they can return to be donors in the future as well," Williams said.
While younger children are not able to give blood, the American Red Cross regularly visits elementary schools to teach about the importance of giving blood with an eye toward the future.
"We're trying to educate children now so they grow up and become blood donors and hopefully be blood donors for life," Williams said.
The next local blood drive is scheduled from noon until 4 p.m. Saturday at the Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores.
"It's in the community room," Cardwell said. "We have them there several times a year."
A community blood drive will also be held in September at the First United Methodist Church, according to Cardwell, although a date has not yet been set.
"If anyone has questions at any age, it's as easy as calling 1-800-GIVE-LIFE (448-3543) or log on to americanredcrossblood.org," Williams said.