When do you think the first blood transfusion took place? Would you guess that it happened in the late 1800s? No, earlier than that. How about the 1700s? No, earlier still. How about on June 15, 1667? Yes, almost 350 years ago, Louis XIV’s personal physician Jean-Baptiste Denys first gave a transfusion of sheep’s blood to a 15 year-old boy. Although he developed an allergic reaction to the blood, the fact that the boy was only given 12 ounces allowed him to survive. Not all of Denys’ patients were so lucky; two of them died. After the second one, Denys was charged with murder, even though the transfusion was not the actual cause of death. Despite his acquittal, blood transfusions were banned in France in 1670. People would have to wait more than 230 years for the research into blood types to make this life-saving procedure safe.
Today’s expression, donner de sang (don-nay duh sahn) means “to give blood.” I can’t perform this potentially life-saving gesture for others as my blood is a little funky, but I’ve been the beneficiary of the kindness of others. It’s Father’s Day this weekend, and one of the things I admire about my own Dad (coincidentally named Denis) was his faithfulness as a donor. The American Red Cross currently has an urgent need for types O-, B-, and A- and a low supply in general. If you’re not sure whether or not you are eligible to give, here are the donor guidelines. If you’re not in the United States, your own country’s blood supply may also be critically low. Please consider donating today in honor of medical pioneer Jean-Baptiste Denys or the father who gave you his blood.