Most people have had some kind of ailment at one point or another, but many people are also fortunate not to experience severe health problems. These healthy individuals can often do something for those who are less fortunate — donate "health."
There are a variety of ways individuals can help complete strangers achieve better health or afford needed treatments, ranging from simple gestures to much more involved procedures.
One of the simplest ways a person can donate to those in need is to pass along medical devices that you or a relative is no longer using. If your prescription in your glasses changes, they can be donated at many eye care centers as well as at Lions Club International drop-off points.
If you have ever bought a walker, crutches or a wheelchair for use during a temporary injury, such as a broken leg or a back injury, or if a relative who passes away leaves these items behind, such devices can be donated to a variety of local and national organizations.
While both Goodwill and Salvation Army will also take these kinds of devices, they will then resell the items in their stores. Donating directly to an organization ensures that the person in need receives the donation free of charge.
Local community organizations or local chapters of Lions Clubs and Rotary Clubs often run medical device donation programs. Also, items can be donated directly to nursing homes, county hospitals, children's hospitals and other medical facilities.
If you don't have medical devices, consider donating healthy food items to local food banks. Most food banks have specific guidelines regarding what food they can legally and safely accept, so it's best to check with the local bank first. However, most will take undamaged cans and unopened box foods, and many will accept cash donations for purchasing fruit and vegetables.
Most food banks receive a great deal of extra food donations during the winter holidays, when many Thanksgiving and Christmas food drives are held. But they have just as high — if not higher — needs for food during the summertime when most people are no longer thinking about food drives.
Not all donations must be physical items either. Donating your time to food banks to sort the products or donating time as a driver to organizations such as Meals on Wheels are ways to help those who are less able-bodied, less healthy or less financially secure.
Giving a Part of Yourself
Beyond items and time, however, there are ways to literally donate a part of yourself as well.
Organ donations may come to mind first, but most organs cannot be donated until after death. Still, anyone can sign up to be an organ donor at any time, usually through the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office where drivers' licenses are distributed.
Becoming an organ donor could potentially save dozens of lives after you have died since a wide range of organs and tissues can be donated. These organs and tissues include the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver, intestines, skin, heart valves, corneas, bone, blood vessels, connective tissues, bone marrow and stem cells.
"The greatest gift that can be donated is the Gift of Life," said Michelle Segovia, senior communications relations coordinator for the northern region of the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance.
"Through organ, eye and tissue donation, one person can save or enhance the lives of 100 individuals," she said. "While most people can register when getting or renewing their license, we encourage you to go online today to register your decision to be a life-saving donor at DonateLife.net." More information about being an organ donor is also available at organdonor.gov.
Though it is a much more involved and intrusive process, individuals can donate kidneys or bone marrow while still alive if they are a match for someone needing a kidney or bone marrow.
Pregnant women can also choose to donate the cord blood of their newborns to a cord bank. This blood contains stem cells that can be used in transplants to individuals with rare chronic conditions.
Meanwhile, two personal resources can be donated again and again with less intrusive procedures: donating blood or plasma and donating hair.
A large number of organizations, including many hospitals, will accept blood donations, but the best known organization is the American Red Cross.
If there is not a blood bank or blood drive you're aware of nearby, you can visit the American Red Cross website to learn about blood donor requirements and to find the nearest place to donate blood.
Those who have type O blood are always especially in demand for donations since they are universal donors, which means their blood can be donated to anyone with any other (A, AB, B, O) blood type.
Hair donations have length requirements usually ranging from 8 to 12 inches, which, along with recipients and business practices, may influence what organization you choose to donate to.
Organizations that accept hair donations include Pantene Beautiful Lengths, Children With Hair Loss (CWHL), Wigs For Kids, Wigs 4 Kids, Angel Hair Foundation, Hair That Cares, Chai Lifeline and Locks of Love.
In addition, lactating women can donate breastmilk for moms who are unable to produce sufficient milk, moms who are unable to breastfeed due to taking medications or other reasons, or families who have lost a mother shortly after a child's birth.
Women interested in donating breastmilk can contact the National Milk Bank or the Human Milk Banking Association of North America for more information on how to qualify and donate milk.
While some of these options are more involved than others, just about anyone can usually figure out one way that works for them to donate "health" to others.