The need for donated blood is critical at any time, but recent accidents in this area have brought that need closer to home. In addition to the everyday demand for blood products due to certain illnesses, vehicle accidents in the past month have increased the demand considerably, right here at home.

Area residents will have the chance to help replenish dwindling blood supplies this Wednesday, when an American Red Cross Bloodmobile is held in Tamaqua. This visit is being sponsored by the Tamaqua Salvation Army and will be held from 1-6 p.m. at the Army's Community Center, 105 W. Broad St.

While blood is composed of the same basic elements, there are actually eight different, common blood types falling into the major ABO group. There are also numerous minor blood groups, based on race and ethnicity, based on the particular antigens found in the red blood cells. There are actually more than 600 known antigens in addition to the A and B blood types. Blood type is determined by genetics. All of this is taken into consideration when a patient needs a blood transfusion.

Imagine a loved one being critically injured in an accident, or a new arrival enters this world with a complication, or your mother being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Donated blood products are vital for all of these patients to make it through the night. Now imagine there is no blood available when it's most needed. This scenario is possible since only one percent of the people eligible to donate blood actually take that hour out of a day every two months to fulfill the constant need for blood donations.

Statistics can be boring, but also mind boggling. The Red Cross estimates a need for blood every two seconds in the United States, with the need for more than 38,000 blood donations daily to try and keep up with the demand. Less than 38 percent of the U.S. population is estimated to be eligible blood donors, even though 100 percent of the population is at risk for needing blood on any given day.

One single blood donation has the potential of saving three lives.

It starts with a visit to a blood drive, which is a simple four step process: registration; medical history and mini-physical; donation; refreshments. The mini-physical consists of having your temperature, blood pressure, pulse and hemoglobin level checked. The actual time a donor is giving blood is approximately ten minutes, although the entire process from registration to refreshments could be up to one hour. In that time, a little more than one pint of blood is taken. The average adult has roughly ten pints of blood in their body. The body replenishes that loss in a matter of days, sometimes hours, as healthy bone marrow makes a constant supply of red cells, plasma and platelets.

Whole blood is composed of red cells, white cells, and platelets which are suspended in plasma. Plasma is a fluid composed mostly of water, but it contains vital proteins in addition to the plateletsThe donated blood is processed, spun in a centrifuge to separate the components. The plasma can be further separated. Numerous tests are performed on each unit to establish the blood type and check for infectious diseases. Approved units are labeled and stored - red cells for up to 42 days, platelets for up to five days and plasma can be frozen for up to one year. It is then ready to be shipped 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The blood types most in demand, and in short supply, are Type O-negative red cells and AB-positive plasma. These types are referred to as "universal donors," as they can be transfused to patients of all blood types. These types are the most valuable to accident victims and newborn babies. A victim of a single car accident could need as many as 100 pints of blood - staggering numbers when you see how many horrific accidents were reported this weekend alone.

Anyone 17 or older, who weighs at least 110 pounds and is in general good health is eligible to donate blood. To do your part, visit Wednesday's bloodmobile in Tamaqua or discover other opportunities at www.redcross.org.