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Blood Donation Basics
19 Jul 2022
A Brief History of Blood Transfusion and Blood Donation
Making a blood donation at a Vitalant location today means being welcomed into a clean, modern facility; screened thoroughly to ensure your safety and blood recipients’ safety; made comfortable in a donor chair; and hooked up to sterile blood donation equipment.
But like many discoveries that occurred centuries before modern medicine was established, the early history of blood transfusion is, frankly, a bit creepy and gross, and may make you more squeamish than the sight of blood or needles. Nevertheless, in the interest of imparting some interesting trivia you can dazzle your friends with, here’s an abbreviated blood donation history.
Yes, They Really Did Use Leeches
“Bloodletting” as a way to cure everything from sore throats to the plague is believed to have started in ancient Egypt, and it continued through the 1800s. We’ve all heard the stories or seen the movies poking fun at using leeches for this practice – which is actually one of the more humane ways bloodletting occurred. Did you know that barbers became the go-to for bloodletting in medieval Europe, and that’s the reason their poles were red and white?
Bloodletting eventually was replaced by safer methods of fighting illness, but unfortunately not before our first president likely succumbed to overzealous use of this method. According to some historians, George Washington asked to be bled after he fell ill Dec. 13, 1799. He died the next day after doctors had drained an estimated 5 to 7 pints of his blood in less than a day. The average human body contains about 10 pints of blood, so knowing what we now know, losing that much blood likely contributed to Washington’s demise.
The first blood transfusion on record was performed in 1665 – between dogs. Two years later, successful transfusions from lambs to humans were reported in Europe, but that method eventually was banned because of transfusion reactions.
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Ready to donate, but unsure if you qualify? Or maybe you’ve been deferred in the past — but that doesn’t necessarily mean you still can’t donate. View our most up-to-date eligibility requirements.
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