The blood bank has revolutionized medicine as we know it and saved countless lives all over the world. A blood bank is a place designed especially for the storage of blood and blood products. Large coolers hold these products at a constant temperature and they are available at a moment's notice. This facility stores whole blood, packed red cells, plasma and other blood products. These products are used for trauma patients, surgeries, blood transfusions that treat disease and a host of other applications.
The first blood bank in the United States opened in 1936 in Cook County Hospital in Chicago. They were mostly found in hospitals at first, because they were the only facilities equipped to store large quantities of blood at that time. Later on, Dr. Charles Drew, a pioneer in the field of blood transfusion science, helped establish the first American Red Cross blood bank. After that, organizations both public and private began establishing blood banks of their own, and soon, they could be found nationwide.
One blood bank will generally cooperate with another in ferrying blood products where they are most needed. In the days before medical flights were common, state highway patrol officers sometimes found themselves involved in transporting blood. For instance, a "relay" of sorts might be set up between two cities, with one trooper picking up the blood and meeting another trooper halfway along the route, who then transported the blood to either the hospital or to another trooper waiting for the "hand off." With many more cities supporting these facilities and the advent of helicopters, this has become less common.
Most humans are in the ABO blood group. Blood type is determined by which antibodies and antigens the person's blood produces. The most common blood type is O, followed by type A. Type O individuals are often called "universal donors" since their blood can be transfused into persons with any blood type. Those with type AB blood are called "universal recipients" because they can receive blood of any type.
Because types O and A are the most common, the need for these types is often the greatest. Those with the rarer B type may donate more often because they understand the need for the less common types. However, since approximately twice as many people in the general population have O and A blood types, the need for this type of blood increases exponentially.
The American Red Cross is probably the most familiar outlet for blood, and most Americans have heard pleas for blood donors increase during summer or holiday seasons - the times when the need for blood is most critical. Most healthy people can donate blood, and national disasters often bring out those who have never donated before. After the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, Americans came out by the thousands to donate blood. Even though it was not needed by the majority of the New York victims, the blood was used throughout the nation to help save lives.