Past Times

Duke students’ blood donations paid off in the 1920s

In the 1950s, Duke students were lining up to donate blood.
In the 1950s, Duke students were lining up to donate blood. Duke University Archives

The discovery of blood types in the early 1900s made blood transfusions safer and more common for treating medical emergencies. In 1928, writer W.C. Dula explained how students at Duke University could get as much as $50 (more than $680 in today’s dollars) for donating a pint of blood.

There are all kinds of ways for making a living, but the latest wrinkle is added in the city of Durham by Duke students who specialize in the giving of blood at Watts Hospital while they specialize in some course of study at Duke University. It is from this institution that much of the blood which is used for transfusions at Watts Hospital is secured, and students find it to be a highly profitable source of revenue.

Not all persons are qualified for the giving of blood, but certain of the young men have a type that will match with the blood of most persons, this being referred to as Type No. 2. A number of these types have been found in Duke University, and these have earned for themselves a handy sum. One student in particular has found it profitable to share his blood with others, and due to his hale and hearty constitution has been able to surrender about a pint of this life-saving fluid about every four or six weeks.

A number of other students are said to be in the same position, and from this they derive much of their money for college expenses. The average price paid for a pint of blood used for transfusions is said to be $50. A pint of blood can be taken from the human body of the average healthy person every four weeks, or possibly five weeks, and with this as a basis on which to figure, a young male student at Duke University with the proper type of blood could earn almost enough to pay his way through college with blood transfusions. Numbers are said to earn their spending money through this method.

According to statistics from Watts Hospital, the only white hospital in the city of Durham, there have been 83 blood transfusions made there during the last three months Of course, much of this comes from the relatives and friends of those in need, but in many instances persons have no friends who are willing to give their blood, and also in many instances the blood from their friends is not the type needed for a transfusion. In this case, outside sources must be secured, and Duke University and the fire department have vied with each other for this honor.…

The hospital itself offers no compensation for the use of blood, this being a matter left to the patient and his ability to pay for it. When the ability to pay is lacking, the blood is gratis for the patient, if the donor is willing under these circumstances. In most instances, however, the patient who needs the blood from a professional blood giver is able to pay for it.

Blood givers, however, are not restricted to Duke University and the Durham fire department. The convict camp has also been the source of blood for persons in dire need of this life-saving and life-giving fluid. A few months ago, Alvin Cothran, 12-year-old Durham county boy, was slashed across the abdomen with the knife of E. K. (“Ki”) Reynolds, now a fugitive from justice. Weak from the loss of blood, he was brought to Watts Hospital, where every effort to save his life was made, but in vain. Homer Riley, Durham county convict, was found to have the type of blood needed by young Alvin. Several transfusions were made in an effort to save the life of the lad.…

This resulted in a pardon for the convict, freeing him from the labors of the rock quarry. The N&O April 22, 1928

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Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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