Blood: The Great Leveler

I am a blood donor. An avid donor. It’s a hobby of sorts. I’ve written about it before here. I call it the great leveler because every person has it, every person needs it, and the only way to get it is from donations. It is only through the goodness of giving that a person in need of blood can be helped.

My first donation was just after my 17th birthday, when I first became eligible. It was a whole blood donation, as it pretty typical of first time donations. I started small, only a couple donations a year, as the eligibility rules state whole blood donations are only allowed every 8 weeks. I wasn’t religious about it at all and after a couple years I sort of stopped donating altogether. Around 2006 I began donating again, here and there at the blood drives we hosted at work. I was happy doing my bit, but I had some bad experiences in the blood mobile so I faded away from donations again.

After a few more years, I had moved around a bit and found the actual blood donor and began anew. One whole blood donation and about a dozen questions later, I made my first appointment for Apheresis Blood Collection (ABC) donation. See, when you donate a pint whole blood it gets placed into a machine and separated out into individual components: platelets, plasma, and red cells. The use of each component is different as is the storage. Each component has a different storage life so separation allows for better opportunity for use before expiration. Here’s a little more about the 3 main transfusable blood products received directly from donation:

  • Red Blood Cells (RBCs). Often used to treat sickle cell anemia, hemorrhage, or blood loss of over 30% volume, they aid in the oxygenation of tissues. The average transfusion patient receives 3 units of red blood cells. ABC donors giving red cells are eligible to donate every 16 weeks.
  • Plasma. Plasma is responsible for coagulation and is therefore often used for bleeding disorders such as hemophilia. Plasma can be frozen and stored for up to one year and donors can give every a unit of plasma every 4 weeks.
  • Platelets. Platelets are commonly used for treatments of bone marrow failure, leukemia, and cancer patients. One transfusion unit of platelets can be donated in an ABC or combined from 5 separate whole blood donations. Platelets must be used within 5 days of donation but donors are eligible every 2 weeks!

Every time there is a disaster, thousands of people flood donor centers and blood mobiles to give, but with short storage times on some components, lack of storage space, and quantity of people in need, donations really are needed on a revolving timeline. If there’s a disaster, watch the donors for volume and if there’s a lot, wait a week and take a group of healthy friends. The only way for us to get through this big crazy life, with all the blood we need, is to give when we can.

For more information on the various components of blood, or donating, try these links:

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