The gift of life is big business in the U.S.

The gift of life is big business in the U.S.
(Photo source: WLOX)
(Photo source: WLOX)
(Photo source: WLOX)
(Photo source: WLOX)

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It's a common sight on the Coast almost every week. A blood drive. What's not so commonly known is your gift of blood is then sold to local hospitals, or sometimes even shipped out of state.

Here are the numbers: Blood sales total more than $4 billion each year in the United States. The average sale price for a pint is $200, but it doesn't stop there.

If you end up in the hospital needing blood, the average price of a transfusion is $1,000. It can be as much as $10,000, depending on the type of blood.

Why does it cost so much? Beth White is the Memorial Hospital director of lab services.

"There's a charge because we have special requirements for storage. We have special requirements for testing. We have to cross match that blood," White explained.

She added that highly trained lab technicians are part of the equation.

"Their work, their salary becomes a part of the cost of taking care of that blood," said White.

The American Red Cross is the largest collector and seller of blood, with revenues from blood sales totaling almost $2 billion in 2014. Still, blood sales have not been profitable for the past three years.

Officials with the organization declined an on camera interview for this story. An email was sent instead, saying in part, "Since 1960, The Red Cross has been reimbursed by hospitals for the costs of screening donors, the collection of blood by trained staff and the testing of blood."

To be fair, Red Cross blood revenues are used to help in disaster relief, like aiding the victims of the recent South Carolina floods. While the Red Cross would not talk, officials with the nonprofit Blood Center in Jackson County did, with public relations manager Paul Adams saying this about blood collections and sales.

"The testing is always going to cost. The bags, the bus, the gasoline to go to and from. That is going to be an expense," Adams said.

The federal government also contributes to the expense, according to the administrator of Ocean Springs Hospital, Heath Thompson.

"There are at least 10 potential infectious diseases that every unit has to be screened for, according to the FDA, and that number goes up. Just a few years back, they added West Nile Virus. Well, that's an additional cost for the blood suppliers," Thompson explained.

Federal programs, specifically Medicare and Medicaid play a role. That's the message from internal medicine specialist Dr. John Weldon.

"It's simply not compensated very well, and we may get only a fraction of that back to the hospital," said Weldon.

Is the blood business a mystery to most of us?  Weldon has an answer.

"I don't think most really have an understanding of that at all. I think a story like this probably needs to be out there to help them understand," Weldon said.

Let's put that theory to the test. Does blood donor Sandra Fountain know her blood is sold?

"It did surprise me, but like I say, I'm just giving blood to help people. I would hope they would do the same for me," Fountain said.

What about fellow donor Tony Smith?

"I thought it was donated and used without cost or anything. It just kind of surprised me that that much money is involved," said Smith.

For those who have donated their blood in the past, given this gift of life, will they have second thoughts now knowing that their blood is actually sold?  For that, health care professionals have an answer.

"Folks go and donate blood, and God bless them. We need them. We have a lot of patients here who need blood," said White.

Weldon also offered his thoughts.

"I would hope they don't view it as a misuse of their blood. We need to still get it, and we need to still have access to it," said Weldon.

Back to Smith and Fountain. Will they stop rolling up their sleeves?

"No. Not whatsoever, because I know that it's the gift of life, and that's the only way we can get it," Fountain said.

Smith agreed.

"It won't change my mind. People need it, and I like to give it in case there is something life or death involved."

With this new information about the blood industry, good news may follow. That's according to Adams.

"If this story gets people to come out and donate once more, twice more in the next year, then we've done something," said Adams.

There are hundreds of nonprofit blood collection centers operating in the United States, including five in Mississippi. Nationwide, the Red Cross collects and sells almost half of all donated blood.

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