The Irreplaceable Gift of Oneself

Emily Schouten


My mother gave me a paperback copy of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula as a high schooler. Initially skeptical, but it quickly became one of my favorite novels. The Gothic horror novel was published in 1897 and follows the adventures of vampire hunters traveling across Europe to destroy Count Dracula. One plotline in the story is about Lucy Westenra, who falls victim to Count Dracula. Lucy is given several transfusions of blood to save her life.

Dracula was primarily written in the 1890s. The concept of life-sustaining blood was well understood by the 19th century, and the first successful transfusion of human blood occurred decades before the novel’s publication. Now, a little over 100 years later, advances in science and medicine have led to safe and successful blood transfusions for thousands of people every day.

Every person’s blood contains four elements. The red blood cells carry oxygen to every cell in our body. White blood cells form our immune system and create antibodies to fight bacteria and viruses, and platelets help our bodies stop bleeding when we have a cut. Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood that carries the nutrients and blood cells we need to stay alive. While everyone has blood with the same components, each person’s blood cells are unique, like a fingerprint. Laboratory Blood Banks complete extensive testing for each person receiving blood to find the best match before a transfusion. But before the Blood Bank technologist can find the perfect match, a person must donate their time and blood in a blood donation.

Locally, the American Red Cross and South Bend Medical Foundation organize blood drives to collect units of blood that are used for lifesaving transfusions. A blood donation involves a generous person giving about an hour of their time to make an enormous impact on the life of another. The donated pint of blood may help as many as three people by providing transfusions for red blood cells, plasma, and platelets. Woodlawn Health receives units of red blood cells from both the American Red Cross and the South Bend Medical Foundation.

In an age of self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, and supercomputers in the palm of our hands, giving one’s time and self is still a powerful medical tool that can decide life or death. Bram Stoker’s use of a blood transfusion was revolutionary for his time. Now, it remains a potent treatment for many conditions. You can contribute to the health of our community by visiting the website for either organization and signing up for a blood drive. Please consider donating a unit of blood and giving the irreplaceable gift of yourself.

Editor's Note

Emily Schouten is the Laboratory Director at Woodlawn Hospital.
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