When we moved to Florida and settled after our year on the road, I decided that I wanted to become a regular blood donor as a way to honor my parents. Both mom and dad both died of blood cancer (MDS), and both received regular transfusions in the years prior to passing, so I saw firsthand how important blood can be to someone’s quality of life.
I donated every eight weeks, which is as often as allowed, for several years.
A little less than a year ago, my regular labs from a routine doctor’s appointment came back showing a little anemia. When I told my physician I had donated blood the day before my labs, she said that it was probably just bad timing and that my iron was depleted from the donation the day before. We decided to check it again in a few months.
At the next bloodwork, the anemia was more pronounced – iron, hemoglobin, and hematocrit all notably low. I had a moment of panic, not having heard those last two words since the days of monitoring dad and mom’s status as their MDS progressed. My doctor referred me to a hematologist, asked me to not donate blood anymore, and put me on oral iron supplements.
Two weeks later I went to the oncology center to give more blood and had a small emotional breakdown in the lobby, recalling my visits with dad. Seeing the sick people packed into this cancer Costco really brought back those memories. The oncologist said my numbers had improved in the two weeks since I’d started supplemental iron, but were still too low. They asked me to schedule a colonoscopy to check for internal bleeding and told me to continue taking iron.
Months later (the American healthcare system is anything but swift) I got a clean bill of health from gastroenterology and went back to oncology for more bloodwork. All numbers back in-range, no internal bleeding.
The verdict? Too frequent blood donation had depleted my iron. My body needed time and supplemental help to rebound. Stop donating blood so frequently, they said. Maybe honor your folks by doing it on their birthdays twice a year instead.
An anxious several months and I’m disappointed because donating really did make me feel like I was doing something good for the world.