Booster Shots

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Blood donation's bloody history

June 18, 2008 |  5:14 pm


Bet you didn't know that--

--Americans who sold their blood used to be represented by a blood seller's union.

--The first donations involved stitching blood vessels of donor and recipient together so that blood could flow from one body to the other.

--Doctors used to use animal blood for transfusions--that of goats and other livestock. This presented problems: "It was hard to get an animal upstairs to a bedroom where a woman had just lost a lot of blood in childbirth," says Susan Lederer, chair of medical history and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, according to a university release. And thus: Husbands were co-opted instead.

Lederer's new book, "Flesh and Blood: Organ Transplantation and Blood Transfusion in 20th Century America," goes into all this early history. It sounds intriguing: She covers the history of the anti-aging testicle-transplant fad and includes a tale of a man who placed an ad in the New York Times in 1903 offering $5,000 for a right ear to replace the one he'd lost.

Blood lust not satisfied? We can guarantee you will learn all you ever wanted at, a website stuffed with facts about blood cells, blood documentaries, even lyrics to a song about blood called "Pump, Pump, Pumps Your Blood" that first appeared on Happy Days and later was used in an aspirin ad. You can listen to it here.

The authors of seem a curious bunch -- they write of themselves, "We at are divided into three teams: the Administrators, the Researchers, and the Techies. This arrangement is pretty conventional with one outstanding exception: the Researchers are single-minded and absolutely dedicated to increasing the public understanding of facts about Blood." That's Blood with a capital B -- every time. (All righty, then.)

--Rosie Mestel

Photo: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times