Your blood has a price. Not a metaphorical price, a quantifiable one. That’s what I found out at Children’s National Medical Center. They operate a blood donor center where they’re able to collect most of the blood they need. But if there’s a shortage, they have to buy it from other organizations. And some blood types are more valuable than others.
A pint of my blood, for instance, can cost hundreds of dollars — but I’m happy to give it away for free.
I’ve been a blood donor at the center for years. It’s on the second floor of Children’s, tucked around the corner from the hospital cafeteria. It has several beds for giving blood and a few small offices where they conduct the pre-donation questionnaire. For me, it all started after my supervisor at a previous job told me that she regularly donated blood at Children’s (you’re limited to donating once every two months). She described how easy it was: Make an appointment for any weekday, complete the questionnaire, donate. Forty minutes or so and you’re done. For your trouble, you get a voucher for a cafeteria breakfast, and they validate parking.
Though it sounded easy, I asked my boss why she went to Children’s instead of a community blood drive location that was easier to get to. Here’s why: The blood donated at Children’s goes directly to the children treated at the hospital. When the hospital doesn’t have the supply they need, they have to buy it from outside sources such as the American Red Cross. Because blood is donated, hospitals technically don’t pay for the blood itself; they pay the “costs associated” with collecting and processing donated blood. Those costs are eventually passed along to the overall cost of treating patients. It astonished me that there was a price on blood. I’d never considered the consequences of a hospital’s blood supply running low, and I certainly didn’t consider the fact that they’d have to spend money to obtain it elsewhere.
So, I tagged along with my boss the next time she went, and the atmosphere couldn’t have been friendlier or more comfortable. After we were hooked up to the blood-drawing equipment, we chatted with staff as if we were having a beer in a bar. Their professional, easygoing vibe is the norm, making my choice to go back regularly a no-brainer.
It wasn’t until after several years of donating, though, that I inquired about how much the hospital must spend for a pint of blood. It depends, a staff member told me. Some blood types cost more than others.
He looked at my chart and told me I’m Type O Negative, the universal donor, and therefore quite valuable — potentially hundreds of dollars per pint, depending on supply and demand. That blew me away. And the price of blood, I’m told, can ratchet higher depending on what kind of antigens it contains. O Negative often fetches more than less universal types, simply because those can’t be used with as many recipients.
Then I did the math. If I donate once every two months, I’d potentially be making the equivalent of an annual donation of a couple of thousand dollars. And unlike money, which doesn’t grow on trees, the blood I give regenerates in my body.
I knew all along that my blood was medically useful, but I didn’t know just how valuable it was. And I realized that if more people knew what their own blood is worth, they’d be more inclined to give, too.
Especially when it goes to children, how could I — how could we — not?