DEDHAM, MASS. (WHDH) - Health officials rolled up their sleeves in Dedham to give blood Tuesday at an event aimed at bringing awareness to recently updated rules enabling many gay and bisexual men to donate their blood.

Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health Robbie Goldstein and former Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky spoke at the event, saying changing the policy for blood donation eligibility was a personal mission. 

“I remember the morning after the Pulse nightclub attack and just tears coming to my eyes and crying and knowing that I wanted to do so much and there was actually very little that I could do in that moment,” Goldstein said. “I couldn’t donate blood and I couldn’t give back in that way and it was something that was so necessary.”

Many gay and bisexual men had previously been unable to donate blood. The FDA issued new rules in May, though. This month, the American Red Cross began accepting blood donations from newly eligible donors. 

Before the change, Goldstein and Walensky had argued donation criteria should be based on science and risk and not stigmatized based on sexual orientation. 

Officials further said recent blood bank shortages have made donations even more uncomfortable. 

“I said ‘Robbie, let’s go donate blood,’” Walensky said. “And we had this stark, uncomfortable, sad moment where I could and he couldn’t. And we then knew as we were digging into the science that that policy, at that time, was not up to date.” 

The doctors said they were never sure their efforts would be able to change the regulations. Still, they said they promised each other that, when the rules finally changed, they would donate blood together.

“You know, you do a lot of work on behalf of the American people, on behalf of the people of Massachusetts and you don’t necessarily always see it pay off with such a tangible outcome,” Walensky said. “So it was really fulfilling to see this one happen.”

Doctors said the updated FDA rules for blood donation could allow for up to five million new potential blood donors across the United States.

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