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Being Your Own Blood Donor

This information explains how to be your own blood donor at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) Blood Donor Room or at your local blood bank.
 
You may need extra blood during your surgery. This blood can come from a blood donation that you made earlier or from a blood bank. When it comes from you, it is called an “autologous blood donation.”
 

Blood Donation at MSK:

  • It takes about 1 hour to donate blood. This time includes an interview with our staff before the donation and resting time after the donation. The blood donation takes about 15 minutes.
  • You may donate blood weekly before your surgery. You must stop donating 5 working days before the date of your surgery.
  • A blood donation expires 35 days after it is collected.
  • If you make multiple donations, you must make them at least 7 days apart.
  • If your surgery is delayed, ask your doctor if your donated blood can be frozen. Frozen blood can be stored for 3 months, after which it is discarded.
  • If you need more blood than you were able to donate, you can ask your friends and family to donate blood for you. If they donate, their blood will be tested to make sure it matches your blood type. It will also be tested for syphilis, HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV), and hepatitis.
  • If you do not need this blood, it will be added to the blood bank to be used for other patients.
    • If you are a woman in your childbearing years, your husband or male partner should not donate his blood to you, because this can increase your risk of complications in future pregnancies. Talk with your doctor about who can donate their blood to you.
  • It is rare, but sometimes patients need more blood than the amount they received from donations. If this happens, you will receive blood from the blood bank.

Before you donate

  • You will need to get a doctor’s order to make autologous blood donations. Your doctor or nurse will send this order to the donor room. He or she will also make the appointments for you to donate. You must have an appointment each time you donate.
    • The MSK Blood Donor Room is located on the 1st floor of the Schwartz Research Building, at 1250 First Avenue, between East 67th Street and East 68th Street.
    • The donor room is open for autologous blood donations Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.
  • The donation process can cause mild anemia (low levels of red blood cells). To prevent this, your doctor may recommend that you take an iron supplement before donating.
    • You may need to take 325 mg of ferrous sulfate (iron) 3 times a day with meals. You can buy it at the drug store without a prescription.
    • Common side effects of iron supplements include constipation, dark-colored stools, and nausea.
    • To prevent constipation, your doctor may recommend that you take a stool softener such as docusate sodium (Colace®). Take 100 mg of docusate sodium orally (by mouth) 3 times a day. You can buy it at the drug store without a prescription.
  • One to 2 hours before your donation appointment, eat a full meal and drink extra fluids. Do not fast before donating.
  • Bring a list of all the medications you are taking, including:
  • If you feel sick or are taking antibiotics on the day of your donation, call the MSK Blood Donor Room at (212) 639-7648 and speak with a nurse.

During your donation

The blood donation process will take about 1 hour from the time you arrive until you are ready to leave.
  • First, you will complete a form with basic information about yourself. You will need to show identification with your name and photo or signature.
  • We will check your blood pressure, temperature, and iron level.
  • We will also look at your arm to make sure you don’t have any infections.
  • We will ask you questions about your health to make sure that you can donate blood that day.
  • You will then donate blood; this will take 15 minutes.

After you donate

  • After you are done donating, you will receive juice and a light snack to help replace the fluids that you donated.
  • Drink extra liquids and follow your regular diet.
  • Avoid strenous activities and exercising for 24 hours after each donation.
  • If your doctor told you to take both the iron supplement and docusate sodium, stop taking them 2 days before your surgery.
  • Call your doctor and the donor room if you have any unexpected or unexplained problems.

Blood Donation at a Local Blood Bank

If you are unable to donate your blood at the MSK Blood Donor Room, call your local blood bank. Ask for the phone number and location of the blood bank nearest you that can ship your blood to MSK.
  • Ask your local blood bank about their blood collection and shipping fees; MSK does not pay these fees. Call your insurance company to see if your health plan covers fees for blood collection and shipping.
  • Your local blood bank must contact MSK before any blood is collected or shipped. You will need to give your doctor’s contact information to the local blood bank. The local blood bank can send your doctor the form to sign.
  • If you will be having blood shipped to MSK, it must be must be collected 2 weeks before your surgery. 
  • Ask your local blood bank when the blood will be shipped. After donating, call them to confirm that the blood was sent.
  • MSK’s Blood Bank phone number is (212) 639-7826.
  • MSK’s Blood Bank fax number is (646) 422-2294.