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LifeSouth lowers age limit to donate
To give blood, 16-year-olds must have parents consent
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LifeSouth spokesman Galen Unold talks about the new policy for teenage blood donors.
Getting a driver’s license isn’t the only rite of passage that Georgia’s kids can experience when they turn 16.

Now, they’re also eligible to donate blood.

Several years ago, the American Red Cross already began allowing 16-year-olds to donate, as long as they have parental consent. But LifeSouth Community Blood Centers just adopted a similar policy this week.

"We were unclear about the issue of parental consent," said Galen Unold, director of donor recruitment and retention for LifeSouth. "We needed to make sure we understood the law in all three states where we operate: Georgia, Florida and Alabama."

All states allow 17-year-olds to donate without parental consent. Unold said the legal question regarding 16-year-olds was whether the results of blood tests, which must be conducted prior to donation, must be shared with parents.

The answer is yes. So if a 16-year-old who attempts to give blood finds out that he has a disease such as HIV, that information cannot be withheld from parents. A 17-year-old, on the other hand, legally can keep the test results private.

This means there’s a bit more paperwork involved with 16-year-old donors. They must have a permission form signed by a parent before they can participate. So a 16-year-old cannot decide to donate on the spur of the moment, the way an adult can.

Shannon Gable, branch manager for the LifeSouth center on McEver Road in Gainesville, said she doesn’t think the consent requirement will deter teens from giving blood.

"Young people today really want to help," she said. "We currently do blood drives at 11 high schools in our area. Some (16-year-olds) have asked me if they can donate. They see their friends doing it, and it’s been hard for me to explain to them why they can’t."

LifeSouth’s first high school drive since the new policy went into effect will be on Sept. 12 at West Hall High.

"We’ll have posters and fliers all over the school announcing that 16-year-olds can donate," Gable said.

She said the policy gives LifeSouth access to a new pool of donors.

"It will definitely benefit us," she said. "People age 17 to 19 are our second-largest group of donors, with age 20 to 24 being the largest."

Unold predicts that the new policy will increase the number of donors at high school drives by about 25 percent. And he wants to get kids excited about the prospect of donating.

"We’ve created a brand-new brochure for our high school students," he said. "The sooner we get them started as a donor, the more likely they are to become a donor for life."

LifeSouth also is addressing concerns about student health. A recent study showed that teenagers are more likely than adults to experience complications after donating, such as dizziness and fainting.

"We’re going to be setting up hydration stations," Unold said. "Students will be required to drink fluids afterwards and be observed for an extra 10 minutes or so. We’re also going to make sure they eat prior to donating, and we’ll have food available."

Gable said a teen’s first experience with blood donation should be as pleasant as possible. "We wanted to make sure that it goes OK for the younger students," she said.

She said donation is more than just a medical procedure; it’s a way for kids to connect with the larger community.

"It’s teaching them something very important at an early age," she said. "It’s like a civic duty to make sure the blood supply is adequate."

If donating is enjoyable and rewarding, kids will want to do it again. Gable said it’s crucial that people develop a habit of donation, rather than thinking that if they do it once, they’ve done their part.

"You have to continue donating each time you’re eligible, because this is a product that has a short shelf life," she said.

Donors must be in general good health, weigh at least 110 pounds and bring a photo ID.