The blood donated at drives in just two Northland area zip codes since January 2009 has the potential to save 9,873 lives.

The blood donated at drives in just two Northland area zip codes since January 2009 has the potential to save 9,873 lives.

These and other facts and figures about blood were explained at last week's meeting of the North Side Health Advisory Committee by Nancy Firth, the American Red Cross donor recruitment representative assigned to the Northland area.

"I'm going to regale you with tales of blood," Firth said as she began her presentation.

And she did, too.

The American Red Cross was started in 1881 by nurse Clara Barton, who first heard of the Swiss-inspired international version of the organization while tending to the wounded during the Crimean War, according to Firth. Barton realized the services the International Red Cross provided to those injured in battle could have saved many lives during her own country's Civil War, Firth said.

Disaster relief and first aid were the only services of the American Red Cross initially, but that changed in 1948. Collecting and storing blood became yet another aspect of the Red Cross, after Dr. Charles Drew perfected the means of storing the precious fluid. Before that, people in need of blood transfusions had to receive them directly from the arm of another person, Firth said.

"We've come a long way since then," she added.

The American Red Cross now handles approximately half of the nation's blood supply and provides four million transfusions a year, the donor recruitment specialist said.

These days, in order to make the blood supply go even further, people don't receive whole blood during transfusions, but rather only the specific components they need, Firth said. These include red blood cells, which can be refrigerated for up to 42 days; plasma, which can be frozen for as long as a year; and platelets, which are only viable for five days.

"There are many, many diseases that only blood can help," she said.

Every unit of blood that is donated has the potential to save three lives, Firth continued, meaning that the 2,749 units of whole blood donated since January 2009 in Zip Code 43229 and the 542 units from Zip Code 43231 combine to potentially have saved 9,873 people.

Only about 35 percent of the population is eligible to donate blood, the donor recruitment representative said. Of that, only 3 percent actually do so.

Those eligible to donate blood may do so every two months.

The need for blood spikes at this time of year, according to Firth, but that also coincides with a drop in the amount being donated.

"Summer trauma season is one our toughest times to bring in blood," she said.

For one thing, about 15 percent of donations come from high school and college students, who generally have the summer off, the Red Cross employee pointed out. Many others who donate during other parts of the year don't do so during the summer because of vacations.

Firth added that she is in the process of trying to establish monthly blood drives at the Karl Road branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and at the North YMCA.

"If we all just work together, imagine how many lives could be saved," she said.