ANNAPOLIS – Avidan Ackerson was just what the American Red Cross was looking for in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: a healthy and eager blood donor.
But when the 16-year-old went to donate, he was turned away. In Maryland blood donors must be at least 17.
“I was extremely disappointed. I was so nonplussed,” said Ackerson, a high school student at Beth Tfiloh in Baltimore. “Aside from the age issue, I was being turned down and there was nothing physically wrong.”
Ackerson, the son of hospital administrator Mitchell Ackerson, decided to ask some questions, and the answers spurred action. Now he’s the impetus behind a bill in the Maryland General Assembly to lower the blood donation age to 16. That bill was heard Thursday by the House Environmental Matters Committee.
Ackerson first e-mailed the Food and Drug Administration and the American Association of Blood Banks asking why 17-year-olds could give blood, but 16- year-olds could not.
The answer: 17 was chosen arbitrarily. The Red Cross allows younger blood donors when provided by state law.
“No one seems to know why somebody picked 17,” said Bobbi Seabolt of the Maryland Academy of Pediatrics, which supports changing the age to 16.
Ackerson next contacted Delegate Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, the only doctor in the General Assembly. Morhaim is an emergency physician at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, where Ackerson’s father also works.
Morhaim, a member of the House Environmental Matters Committee, is now sponsoring a bill to allow 16-years-olds to donate blood. The increase in donors would benefit the state, he said.
Meanwhile, Ackerson organized his peers. About 200 students at his high school signed a petition backing the lower donation age. The Maryland Association of Student Councils also endorsed his plan.
Last year, about 1,323 blood donors in the Chesapeake Bay area were 17 years old. California, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana and Washington already allow 16 year olds to donate blood.
“Think how many more teenagers can go donate blood,” Ackerson said. “We could have so much more blood out there.”
Other than the age requirement, American Red Cross donors need to be in good health, weigh at least 110 pounds and not have donated blood within the last 56 days.
The bill is supported by a majority of the House Environmental Matters Committee, with 11 of the panel’s 12 members signed on as co-sponsors.
Ackerson said he hopes the legislation is passed this session. That way, it’ll take affect before he turns 17 in August.
“I can’t vote yet, but I can still have this tremendous impact on the state and the governmental system,” Ackerson said. “It’s hard to believe that a teen-ager could do this much.”
– 30- CNS 2-7-02