Expanded blood donation guidelines mean more can give the gift of life

April 22, 2020

For years, Denise Bradley wasn’t able to donate blood. Like thousands of Americans who served in the U.S. military, Bradley was stationed in Europe when Mad Cow disease was a serious issue, and that disqualified her under FDA guidelines.

Ever since, every time there was a callout for blood donations, she’d cheerfully respond, “I can’t, I have Mad Cow!”

But the minute she learned that the FDA had loosened restrictions, she signed up.

“I immediately called University Health System’s Blood Donor Services and was thrilled to be sitting in the donation chair a few hours later,” said Bradley, director of strategic engagement & projects at University Health System. “Donating blood is an easy, painless way of helping, and I will be doing this as often as they let me.” More of Denise’s story is below.

The new guidelines mean many people who formerly could not donate are now eligible, including many in San Antonio’s large military and retired military population – a real boon to the regional blood supply. The FDA has removed restrictions on several categories of blood donation. These formerly excluded groups are among those who can now donate:

  • Donors in Europe associated with a military base who were deferred due to Mad Cow disease may now donate.
  • Donors who were deferred due to travel to certain countries now may only be deferred for three months.
  • Donors who were excluded due to needle sticks, tattoos or piercings now will only be deferred for three months.

“I’m glad about the FDA guideline changes,” said Dr. John Daniels, medical director of donor services at University Health System. “These changes are based on evidence from the scientific community and literature.”

“They may allow previously deferred donors to have an opportunity to save lives and give back to their community,” Daniels said.

People with questions can call Blood Donor Services at 210-358-2812. If they are ready to donate, they can schedule their time at DonateBloodToday.com.

Denise’s story:

Denise donating blood“I joined the Air Force in June 1990, two months before the Gulf War started, so I learned the importance of donating blood pretty early in my career. I worked in the dental clinic, where most of us felt a bit removed from the war, but donating blood was something we could always do to help out. We were told our blood donations were going to military members and their families, but as long as it went to someone that needed it, that’s all I cared about. I donated whenever they asked me to. We never received much of an incentive back then, maybe juice and a cookie, but we did walk out feeling really good about helping.

I was stationed at Aviano, Italy from 1996 until 2003. After that assignment I was told I could no longer donate because of the potential of having Mad Cow Disease (variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease). I didn’t feel as though there was really anything wrong with me, but there was no way of taking a test – you just had to live with it. I would occasionally ask someone that worked in the lab if the rules had changed and they always told me no. I’d walk away feeling a little sad and frustrated at not being able to help because of a disease I didn’t have. Whenever someone at work talked about donating blood, I would always say “I can’t because I have mad cow disease” and I’d laugh a little. I guess they remembered me saying that because last week I received a call from one of my co-workers saying the rule had been re-evaluated and I that I should check it out. I immediately called University Health System – Blood Donor Services and was thrilled to be sitting in the donation chair a few hours later. Donating blood is an easy, painless way of helping, and I will be doing this as often as they let me.”