Donating Blood With The HD Gene

Will giving blood

It’s fine to give blood when you’ve tested positive for the HD gene. I was a regular donor when I found out I had it and one of the first things I did was to check to see if I could still give. At the time I was a blood drive sponsor for a North Carolina agency and had access to the full Red Cross eligibility manual. It said, “… donors with the Huntington’s Disease gene are acceptable as long as any involuntary movements will not affect the donation process”.

HD cannot be transmitted through a blood transfusion. Every blood cell has the HD gene, like all of our cells, but someone else’s DNA cannot be affected by adding our blood cells.  A recipient will carry cells with two types of DNA after a transfusion. However, all blood cells are being constantly replaced with new ones made in bone marrow. Eventually the HD positive cells will all be replaced and the recipient’s blood will be all their own.

I like to donate around Thanksgiving each year as a way to be thankful for everything I have. This year happened to be my 50th donation in North Carolina and I had a picture taken, included with this post.

My first donation was in January, 1968. I was an officer candidate at Marine Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia. My platoon of 40 people was scheduled to donate one morning as part of a base blood drive. One does not turn down such an offer from a drill instructor, so we all happily volunteered.

I don’t think any of us had ever donated, so we were all a little apprehensive. There was a big guy in my platoon who looked like he had been a college football running back. He was quite vocal about what a piece of cake this would be and got in the front of the line. Well, they stuck his finger to take a blood sample for iron testing and he fainted. He did recover and donated, but it took a long time for him to live that down.

My iron passed and I didn’t faint, so I started the process. About halfway through, a good friend named Walt who was donating on the bed next to me said, “Will – your bag is overflowing!” I yelled for a nurse and realized I had been punked, to use a current expression. Neither of us would have dreamed that we would retire as Full Colonels some 30 years later. We weren’t even 2nd Lieutenants yet. 26 of the 40 would make it through OCS. Unfortunately, 5 would not make it back from Vietnam, including my OCS bunkmate and best friend, Doug Bergeron.

Our next stop after OCS was The Basic School (TBS), a 6 month finishing school for new officers, also located at Quantico. It teaches all the tactical, administrative and logistical knowledge a new Lieutenant needs. About halfway through I got married – see my post titled “A Happy Falling Out of Love Story for Valentine’s Day”. Many new Lieutenants used their new pay to buy Corvettes. I got married and bought a used Chevy Biscayne. Looking back…… 

We were married in Boston on a Saturday and attended a reception at her parents’ house that lasted into Sunday morning. 4 of my Basic School friends had driven up to attend in uniform and impressed everyone with their imbibing ability. The newlyweds drove from Boston to Virginia and arrived around 10:00 PM on Sunday.

I was due in class at 7:00 AM Monday morning. Although I was a little bleary eyed, I did make it on time. Most unfortunately, in the midst of all the wedding stuff, I had forgotten that my TBS Company was scheduled to give blood that day. Being a blood donor veteran after giving once, I didn’t think twice about it. You can probably guess where this story is going. I got up from the donation bed and about halfway to a canteen area I passed out and hit the floor in front of 100 Marines who knew I had just gotten married.

Smelling salts brought me back to life. You can imagine the ribald comments I received about the quality of our wedding night. Actually, there were other factors that caused me to have a bad donation experience. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about donating blood successfully and I’d like to share them with the HD community.

Many people just don’t like needles and use that as an excuse not to donate. Even some long time donors don’t like them. For years I wouldn’t look as it was being inserted. I decided that was silly and switched to watching the whole process. It’s really just a little pinch and the vast majority of blood technicians (technical term phlebotomist) are really good at needle sticks.

I did have problems in the past with lightheadedness after donating that occasionally put me in a special chair that flips you upside down to bring more blood to your head. I asked my doctor about it and he asked if I were getting in the chair fully hydrated. I had been doing the opposite to make sure I wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom. I followed his advice and have not had a problem since. It’s also important to have a light low fat meal or snack within a couple hours of donating. I hadn’t had breakfast before my ill-fated post-wedding donation.  

Once you start the donation, some people get nervous and start to hyperventilate, or breathe rapidly. If that happens, just take a couple of deep breaths and concentrate on breathing slowly. Remind yourself that this is a harmless procedure that is going to save lives.

About halfway through, you start to feel a little lightheaded from blood loss. This is normal and actually quite pleasant for many. I’ve never smoked dope, but I imagine the feeling of well-being I get from giving blood is similar. When you’re finished it’s important to drink something right away. Some folks like to drink something before standing up, and the staff will be glad to bring you something with a straw.

My secret for recovery is to drink a couple of glasses of high test Coke or Pepsi (not the diet version) and eat something sugary. The caffeine and sugar in that combination give your blood sugar a needed hit, and I’m ready to go in about 15 minutes. The fluid lost with a blood donation is replaced in 24 hours, but it takes nearly 30 days for all the red blood cells to be replaced. I feel a little weak the next day, but try to do a short run anyway. By the 4th day I feel pretty much back to normal. I do avoid donating for 30 days before a race to be on the safe side. Most donations are split into 3 parts and can save 3 lives. 

Roll up your sleeves, HD people and join me!!