A Grain Of Saul: There’s A Lesson We Can Learn From Las Vegas That Has Nothing To Do With Guns

You can save a life today.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

In the wake of devastating mass shootings across the United States, there are almost always a slew of caring Americans who immediately get in line to donate their blood to the victims.

Often times, this gesture — one that usually comes en masse — is rightfully propped up as a reminder of our humanity. As a reporter, seeing the news about long lines of people willing to donate their blood is one of the first things to restore my faith in people when there is an incident of mass violence.

We saw it again Monday morning: blood donation centers in Las Vegas were overwhelmed with volunteers across the city. In several cases that were documented across social media, lines were out the door and down the street to donate blood not just in Las Vegas proper but in the surrounding suburbs.

This gesture is, with no exaggeration, life-saving. 4.5 million Americans would die without blood transfusions each year. Hospitals in Las Vegas have made it clear they can use the help. But donating blood isn't just something we should do in the wake of a mass shooting, it's something we should try to do regularly.

The blood first used in tragedies, particularly tragedies like the one in Las Vegas, is blood that's already on the shelf when the tragedy happens. 

According to the American Red Cross, "every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood." A large chunk of the people who receive blood donations from you will be fighting cancer. Others will need blood for high-risk pregnancies, sickle cell disease, kidney disease or because of a recent traumatic accident (like, for example, being the victim of a shooting), among other things. 

Despite that, only five percent of Americans give blood each year when about 60 percent of Americans are eligible to. Often times, if people do give blood, it's because of a major news event like the story from Las Vegas this weekend. While the generosity of those people is pure and their blood is useful, there's always a tricky catch to that situation: too much blood being donated at once can lead to wasted donations. After Sept. 11, some 200,000 units of blood were simply thrown away unused because there weren't enough survivors. Red blood cells only last 42 days before going bad. 

That's why most blood drives — like the ones led by The American Red Cross — advocate that people donate habitually throughout the year. If donors were to donate two to four times a year, some studies say it could stop the blood shortages American hospitals usually see during the winter and summer months. 

At the same time, one blood donation can save as many as three lives. One in 10 people who go to the hospital are in need of blood. And the best news is that giving blood is actually pretty easy: the entire process takes about an hour, you can do it every 12 weeks, and it's incredibly safe. Most people tell The American Red Cross that they don't donate because they are scared of needles or haven't thought about it — but, for most people, neither are particularly powerful reasons to not go and save a life. 

There are plenty of things to talk about and act on when a shooting like the one in Las Vegas happens: upcoming votes regarding gun accessories, the constant battle over gun control, mental health issues, and so on. But very few of those things offer an opportunity for an immediate, actionable step that you could to take today, tomorrow, or next week that will legitimately save a life. Donating blood is one of those things. 

If you want to donate now, for the next time someone needs it, you can go to The American Red Cross website and look up a donation drive near you. 

You can follow Isaac Saul on Twitter at @Ike_Saul


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