Arkansas teen Barrett Stark knows the need firsthand. Barrett began his battle with leukemia last April. In addition to chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, dozens of blood and platelet transfusions are also part of his treatment.

The American Red Cross is the single largest blood supplier in the U.S., providing about 40 percent of the nation's blood supply. Each day, the Red Cross needs about 15,000 blood donations to meet the needs of patients like Barrett.

Rising demand

There are many different reasons why blood and platelets are needed. Accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for cancer, sickle cell disease, or other blood disorders may all need blood.

"Accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for cancer, sickle cell disease, or other blood disorders may all need blood."

During Black History Month, the Red Cross reminds all eligible donors how important it is that donors are as diverse as the patients who need their help. All patients are matched by blood type and Rh factor prior to transfusion. For some patients, additional red cell markers in donated blood also have to be matched. These markers are determined by ethnicity and are best found in a diverse donor base.

Approximately 100,000 people in the U.S., many of them African-American, are affected by sickle cell disease. One of the most common treatments for this disease is regular blood transfusions. Many of these patients have rare blood types unique to African-Americans, meaning these patients rely on donors with matching blood types from the same ethnic or genetic background.

Are you eligible?

Blood can be safely donated every 56 days. Platelets can be given every seven days—up to 24 times a year. Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental consent in most states), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.