Faced with a need for deeper blood reserves, blood banks are stepping up their recruitment in high schools. And teenagers as young as 16 and 17 years old are responding to the blood drives, contributing about 10 percent of the nation's blood supply.
Sophie Davis is one of those teens. Not only did she donate blood this year, but she coordinated the drive at her high school.
Davis, who lives in Eugene, Ore., plans to work in the medical field. She says donating blood was a direct and tangible way to reach out to the community.
"It's interesting, when you're laying there watching blood leave your body," Davis says.
"It's an odd feeling knowing that this blood will go into someone else's body and help heal them," she says. "You don't know whose body it will go into, but it will go to someone in need. And actually, one donation can save three lives. So you know you're doing a lot to help."
During the drive at her school, Sheldon High, Davis says there were posters and morning announcements.
"But the most effective method we utilized was that I visited about 14 classes and talked directly to students about the blood drive," she says.
"I handed out fliers. That way, kids were told about donating blood firsthand."
Davis says her fellow students wanted to know if donating blood would hurt, how long it would take and if they qualified to give. To qualify, students had to have healthy levels of iron in their blood and weigh at least 110 pounds. They also had to be age 16 or over.
In most states, 16-year-olds can donate blood with their parents' consent. And 17-year-olds can donate without parental consent.
According to health experts at UCLA and Cedars Sinai Medical Center, there are no significant side effects when healthy individuals, even teenagers, donate blood.
To help make donating blood a positive experience for teens, Dr. Anne Eder of the American Red Cross headed a study that evaluated adverse reactions to blood donation by 16- and 17-year-olds compared with older donors.
The study focused on nine American Red Cross regions, which in 2006 collected 145,678 whole-blood donations from 16- and 17-year-olds, 113,307 from 18- and 19-year-olds and 1,517,460 from donors age 20 and older.
Complications occurred after 10.7 percent of donations by 16- and 17-year-olds, 8.3 percent of donations by 18- and 19-year olds, and 2.8 percent by those 20 and older.
"Young donors were more likely to experience a reaction," Eder says. "Most reactions are mild and are symptoms like lightheadedness, dizziness, becoming pale and sweaty, feeling like you're going to faint."
Fainting, while rare, can bring more serious problems if the donors fall after losing consciousness. In the study, such cases resulted in lacerations, dental injuries and even one broken jaw.
But in almost all of the donations from high school students, blood donations went smoothly, says Eder.
Christine Stockdale organizes blood drives for Lane Memorial Blood Bank, a small independent bank in Eugene, Ore.
"We want to make sure [donors] are well-hydrated," Stockdale says. "Having a lot of fluid intake beforehand is essential. Also, we insist that they eat a good meal, with at least 9 grams of protein, within about 2 hours of donating. This all helps them adjust to losing that one pint of blood."
If teenagers don't have a good experience the first time they donate, they're less likely than adults to give again — and, Stockdale says, less likely to make a habit of donating blood.
"We are finding that a lot of people in their late 20s, 30s, early 40s are so busy with building careers; they have families," Stockdale says. "They're really busy — they don't put donating blood as a priority."
So banks such as Lane Memorial are targeting high school students across the country, in the hope that giving blood could become a habit early in life.