New FDA guidelines expanding eligibility for those who want to give blood

HOUSTON – Donating blood can save lives. Despite wanting to help those in need, many healthy Americans were restricted.

New guidelines issued by the Food and Drug Administration are expanding those who are now eligible to donate blood.

Under the new rules, all potential donors would need to complete individual risk assessments, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Joann Thomas is a schoolteacher at Spring Branch ISD’s Wilchester Elementary School.

“They (students) are my babies. This school is my family. This is my family.” Explained Joann.

And all were there for Joann when she needed them most.

“My health journey really started when I was born, and I was diagnosed with hyaline membrane disease.” said Joann.

A condition that impacts the lungs. A young Joann was also diagnosed with a chronic blood disorder that would require her to regularly undergo blood transfusions. Defying the odds, Joann went on with life, marrying Mister Thomas, having two beautiful children and a rewarding career; but later in life more health issues popped up.

“I had a type of cancer that hepatocellular carcinoma. People usually don’t survive,” she said.

Years of treatment and more blood transfusions, Joann underwent a liver transplant in February 2022.

Joann spent months in the hospital. There for her, her students.

“They, they were wonderful.” cried Joann. “I am a walking miracle because of people who donate blood.”

Men who have sex with men were originally banned from donating blood because of the HIV/AIDS crisis. In 2015, the FDA lifted that lifetime ban and said gay and bi-sexual men who abstained from sex for one year, could donate. In 2020, that period was relaxed to three months. Now, the guidelines will be the same for every donor, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, everyone will complete a questionnaire to assess “individual risk” before being allowed to donate.

Austin Davis Ruiz, a member of the LGBTQ community, said these new guidelines are an equitable move forward.

“Really this is a huge step forward for everybody, I think this is going to make an incredible difference in terms of allowing gay men to donate, increasing the blood supply,” Ruiz said.

Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center has 14 donor sites in Houston.

“So right now, we need about a thousand units a day, and that’s just to maintain our community.” explained Cameron Palmer with Gulf Coast Blood Center. “This is probably the biggest, the biggest thing you’ll see in the blood banking industry probably in my lifetime. So hopefully we can start seeing more blood on the shelves, which in turn will help out patients in our community because, you know, we serve the largest medical center in the world where that need for blood is constant.”

As for Mrs. Thomas, she’s back right where she wants to be, in the classroom with her beloved students, thankful for those who helped make it possible.

“The people who donate are angels and they’re giving a treasure, and they are giving other people the chance at life.” cried Joann.

Right now, blood banks in the U.S. are updating their questionnaires to reflect these changes.

Canada and the United Kingdom have already implemented these changes.

About the Author:

Zachery “Zach” Lashway anchors KPRC 2+ Now. He began at KPRC 2 as a reporter in October 2021.