5 Things You Need to Know About Blood Donation

By Ernst Lamothe Jr

Blood remains the powerful liquid life force coursing through our veins. The precious resource often goes unnoticed until someone is in dire need.

Blood is a body fluid that runs through the human circulatory system delivering nutrients and oxygen to cells and moving metabolic waste from those same cells. Understanding the significance of blood and its impact on saving lives can inspire individuals to become donors. According to the American Red Cross, someone needs blood every two seconds in the United States and less than 10% of the eligible U.S. population donates annually.

Melissa Maciejko, hematology blood bank supervisor at Oswego Health.

“It does not make a difference between race or ethnicity and the most common blood type is O+ and the least common is AB-,” said Melissa Maciejko, hematology blood bank supervisor at Oswego Health. “Each time you donate up to three different products are obtained which are red blood cells, plasma and platelets. Each can help save a life.”

Here are five frequently asked questions about donations.

1 — It’s easy and takes from 45 to 90 minutes

Generally, blood donation takes between 45 to 90 minutes. A nurse or technician at a donated area asks you for essential information such as your address and driver’s license. Experts suggest you wear a short-sleeved shirt or a shirt with loose-fitting sleeves to make it easier to donate.

“Someone will explain what is going to happen and give you some information to read over. In a confidential area, you will be asked various questions to determine your eligibility to donate, which includes travel history, health history and medications you are taking,” said Maciejko. “You will have your blood pressure, temperature and hemoglobin level measured.”

Once cleared for donation, a sterile needle gets placed in your arm and inserted into your veins. The blood draw takes about 10 minutes with about 475  milliliter of blood removed.

2 — You get a certificate of honor for donating

After donating blood, participants walk toward a separate area to get a drink and a snack to eat.

Nurses or technicians monitor to make sure there are no light headed or other symptoms.

“You will also be given a small certificate of honor for donating to help save lives. For the next 24 hours, drink a couple extra glasses of water or strenuous exercise,” Maciejko added.

Your body replaces the liquid portion of your blood, which is plasma, in about two to three days. The red blood cells that carry oxygen must be created by the person in their bone marrow and takes about two months.

3 — Your donation saves lives

When someone has surgery, gets into an accident or has an injury, they may lose a lot of blood. Some disease conditions cause anemia that requires blood replacement. Blood is in constant demand for various medical procedures, surgeries and to treat patients with conditions such as anemia and cancer. Regular blood donations remain important to maintain an adequate and stable blood supply. Sometimes components of blood are needed such as cryoprecipitate or platelets to help the clotting process. “There is no artificial replacement for these,” said Maciejko. “Blood donations from the public are the only way. Your donation could help save someone else’s life. Nearly 29,000 units of blood are needed each day in the United States.”

Unfortunately, blood has a limited shelf life. Red blood cells are stored for 42 days, platelets for just five days and plasma for up to a year while frozen. This short span makes it crucial to have a continuous fresh supply.

4 — You won’t get HIV

Some people think that donating blood is painful.  It is no worse than getting a regular injection or vaccination. Many times, the fear of donation causes more than the actual pain. Other myths include perceived health risks.

“Some believe you will get HIV from donating blood. The needle and apparatus used in the donation process have never been used before and are completely sterile,” Maciejko said. “There is no way of getting any disease by donating blood.”

She also said if you have been deferred in the past due to low hemoglobin, infections or maybe it was too soon to donate again, try again in the future. The deferment may only be temporary.

5 — Refrain from donating if you have certain diseases

Individuals with cancer, heart, lungs and kidneys issues, infections or fevers should not donate blood.

“If you have or ever had HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B or C you cannot donate blood,” she added. “The blood is screened for these diseases and it will be disposed of if positive. If an individual has gotten a tattoo from a state that does not regulate the facility, you must wait three months before donating blood.”

Each unit of donated blood has at least 18 tests performed on it before it can be given to anyone.  Those tests include hep B, hep C, HIV-1, HIV-2, HTLV-I, HTLV-II, syphilis and West Nile.