RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Blood banks are looking for more donors as the need for blood grows. And increasingly they're getting help from people like this.

Ms. SOPHIE DAVIS (High School Student): My name is Sophie Davis. I'm 17 years old and I go to Sheldon High School.

MONTAGNE: Sophie has donated blood this year. She's also coordinated the blood drive at her school. And blood banks are stepping up their recruitment in high schools like hers.

NPR's Patti Neighmond reports.

PATTI NEIGHMOND: Sophie Davis lives in Eugene, Oregon. She's looking forward to a career in the medical field, which is why she decided to coordinate the blood drive. As for donating blood herself, she says it was a direct and tangible way to reach out to the community.

Ms. DAVIS: When you're laying there, you know, you're watching the blood leave your body and it's this really odd feeling of, you know, I know this blood is going to go into someone else's body and actually help heal them. So you don't know who the blood goes to, but you know it goes to someone in need. And it can actually - one donation can help save three lives. So you know you're doing - you're doing a lot to help.

NEIGHMOND: And that's what she told fellow students when she led the blood drive campaign at her school.

Ms. DAVIS: I actually visited about 14 classes and talked to them about the blood drive and, you know, said when it was going to be and then handed out flyers. And that way kids are told about it first hand. Because if you, you know, after the first two blood drives we'd ask people, you know, oh, why didn't you donate or why did you donate? And it was either because someone told me directly or someone didn't tell me directly. And so we really tried to reach out and talk to as many kids as we could about it.

NEIGHMOND: Davis says kids wanted to know if donating blood would hurt, how long it would take, and if they qualified. She says students had to have healthy levels of iron in their blood and weigh at least 110 pounds. They also had to be 16 or over. In most states 16-year-olds can donate with their parents' consent, and 17-year-olds can donate without their parents' consent.

According to health experts at UCLA and at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, there are no significant side effects when healthy individuals, even teenagers, donate blood. And to make sure donating blood is a positive experience for teens, Dr. Anne Eder of the American Red Cross evaluated donations from 16 and 17-year-olds.

Dr. ANNE EDER (American Red Cross): Young donors were more likely to experience a reaction, and most reactions are mild and are symptoms such as light-headedness, dizziness, becoming pale and sweaty, feeling like you're going to faint.

NEIGHMOND: And while rare, Eder says, some kids did faint, which caused more serious problems.

Dr. EDER: Loss of consciousness and falling and injury.

NEIGHMOND: Like lacerations, dental injuries, and even one broken jaw.

But in almost all of the over 145,000 donations from high schoolers, blood donations went smoothly. Christine Stockdale organizes drives for Lane Memorial Blood Bank, a small independent bank in Eugene, Oregon.

Ms. CHRISTINE STOCKDALE (Lane Memorial Blood Bank): We want to make sure that they are well hydrated. Having a lot of fluid intake beforehand is essential. Also we insist that they eat a good meal with at least nine grams of protein within about two hours of donating. This all helps them adjust to losing that one pint of blood.

NEIGHMOND: And if teenagers don't have a good experience the first time they donate, they're less likely than adults to return again, and Stockdale says less likely to make blood donations a habit, something that has to start early in life.

Ms. STOCKDALE: We are finding that a lot of people in their late 20, 30s, early 40s, are so busy with building careers, they have families. They're really busy. They don't put donating blood as a priority.

NEIGHMOND: So banks like Lane Memorial are targeting high school students across the country. Today, 16 and 17-year-olds contribute about 10 percent of the nation's blood supply.

Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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