Want to save a life? Try to give blood. Then keep trying.
Stephanie Hayes | A diverse blood supply may help people get through coronavirus and more.
Tampa Bay Times photographer Douglas Clifford was diagnosed in April with COVID-19, the virus that causes the coronavirus. After being cleared by doctors, he was asked to donate his plasma.
Tampa Bay Times photographer Douglas Clifford was diagnosed in April with COVID-19, the virus that causes the coronavirus. After being cleared by doctors, he was asked to donate his plasma. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published June 10, 2020

When you’re sitting on the Big Red Bus, spend some time thinking about Charles Drew.

The African American surgeon and researcher invented a process of separating blood, prolonging the storage life of plasma. Considered the father of modern blood banking, he developed mobile donation and opened large blood banks during World War II. Later, he taught countless doctors at Howard University.

Seventy years after his death comes our spring of reckoning. As we try to create a more just and equitable world, blood plays a role.

The nonprofit OneBlood does this work locally. It isn’t taking walk-ins or parking the iconic bus at movie theaters and high schools right now. Donation is all via appointment. And since May, OneBlood has offered donors a free coronavirus antibody test. It explains, with some room for error, if you had the virus but didn’t know it.

If you did, your convalescent plasma can be split off (thanks, Dr. Drew!) and given to COVID-19 patients in an experimental treatment that may help fight the virus. Coronavirus patients are disproportionately black and Hispanic, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The disease is hitting minorities for a host of reasons, most of which stem from the systemic inequalities now under the national microscope.

Related: Tampa Bay Times photojournalist donates plasma after coronavirus

Coronavirus aside, there’s a need for a more diverse blood pool. Four percent of blood donors are black, said OneBlood spokeswoman Susan Forbes. That’s too low, because black donors hold the key to treating sickle cell anemia, a disorder that primarily affects African Americans and can require lifelong blood transfusions.

“We live in a diverse country, and we have people here from all over the world," Forbes said. "Different ethnic groups and genetics play a role in finding matches for people who need blood.”

Shamefully, it has been seven years since I donated blood. My vessels are like dental floss, and finding an entry can be a gnarly expedition. And honestly, it is alarming to watch the blood bail out. Don’t I need that?

But if 2020 isn’t the time to get over ourselves, no time is. Despite my lily-livered ways, I made my appointment. Twice. I failed to pass the bar. Twice. My iron was too low, even after a bacon cheeseburger, a moat of spinach, a pantheon of chicken and a barge of quinoa. Please do not write telling me to take iron supplements. I have thought of this.

Other potential obstacles range from pregnancy to medications. And here’s one: For decades, a federal rule restricted men who had sex with men from donating blood, a decision born of the AIDS crisis. As these COVID patients were turned away from blood centers in April, the Food and Drug Administration relaxed the abstinence period to three months. That’s still not great. More studies are coming as some doctors and advocates work to end the rule. Forbes said men who have been deferred should contact OneBlood to get reinstated.

Let’s do the best we can here. Don’t be like me and wait years. Eligible people can donate whole blood every 56 days, plasma every 28 and platelets every seven. Help someone hurt by the pandemic. But know, too, that cancer patients and premature babies and sickle cell patients will not go away when the crisis fades.

Spend your days with Hayes

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options


To make an appointment, visit or call 1-888-9DONATE.

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

THE CORONAVIRUS SCRAPBOOK: We collected your stories, pictures, songs, recipes, journals and more to show what life has been like during the pandemic.

GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.

SO YOU WANT TO LEAVE YOUR HOUSE? Read these 10 tips first

UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits

LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters

HAVE A TIP? Send us confidential news tips

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.