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National Blood Donor Month

Monday, January 9, 2017

Clara Barton founded the first Chapter of the American Red Cross in Dansville, NY in 1881. Today, her legacy is honored through a beautiful home on Elizabeth Street, donated by the Noyes family. Perhaps the greatest way we can honor Clara, however, is through the gift of life – blood donation.  January is National Blood Donor Month.  It is a time when blood organizations like the American Red Cross pay tribute to the nearly 11 million people who give blood each year, and encourage others to start off the New Year right by donating blood.  According to James Love, executive director of the Greater Rochester American Red Cross chapter, “the need for blood is especially high around the time of the holidays.”  Traditionally, January has been a challenging time for blood donation because of cold and snowy weather and busy post-holiday schedules.  Regardless of the weather or convenience, hospital patients nationwide need about 44,000 blood donations daily for cancer care, surgeries, and the treatment of serious diseases and trauma.  

To break down that number down further, every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.  Unfortunately, that blood cannot be manufactured.  It must be donated.  Although an estimated 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood at any given time, less than 10% of eligible individuals actually donate each year.  Why don’t people donate? The most common reasons cited include: “Never thought about it” and “I don’t like needles.”  The number one reason people do donate – they “want to help others.”  Indeed, donating blood helps every hospital in the U.S. The American Red Cross alone provides blood for approximately 2,600 hospitals. Donors play a vital role in keeping our communities healthy and donating is easy.  

According to redcrossblood.org, getting blood from donors to the hospitals is a 5-step process.

Step 1 – The Donation

The actual blood donation takes about 10-12 minutes. The entire process, from the time you arrive to the time you leave, takes about an hour and 15 minutes.

  • Donor registers

  • Health history and mini physical (temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and hemoglobin level) are completed.

  • About 1 pint of blood and several small test tubes are collected from each donor. (The average adult has about 10 pints of blood in his or her body.)

  • The bag, test tubes and the donor record are labeled with an identical bar code label to keep track of the donation

  • The donation is stored in iced coolers until it is transported to a Red Cross center

Donor registers

Health history and mini physical (temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and hemoglobin level) are completed.

About 1 pint of blood and several small test tubes are collected from each donor. (The average adult has about 10 pints of blood in his or her body.)

The bag, test tubes and the donor record are labeled with an identical bar code label to keep track of the donation

The donation is stored in iced coolers until it is transported to a Red Cross center

Step 2 – Processing

  • Donated blood is scanned into a computer database

  • Most blood is spun in centrifuges to separate the transfusable components – red cells, platelets, and plasma

  • The primary components like plasma, can be further manufactured into components such as cryoprecipitate also known as cyro (a frozen blood product prepared from plasma.)

  • Red cells are then leuko-reduced (white blood cells removed in order to use the blood for transfusion)

  • Single donor platelets are leuko-reduced and bacterially tested.

  • Test tubes are sent for testing.

Donated blood is scanned into a computer database

Most blood is spun in centrifuges to separate the transfusable components – red cells, platelets, and plasma

The primary components like plasma, can be further manufactured into components such as cryoprecipitate also known as cyro (a frozen blood product prepared from plasma.)

Red cells are then leuko-reduced (white blood cells removed in order to use the blood for transfusion)

Single donor platelets are leuko-reduced and bacterially tested.

Test tubes are sent for testing.

Step 3 – Testing

  • Steps 2 and 3 take place at the same time

  • The test tubes are received in one of three Red Cross National Testing Laboratories

  • A dozen tests are performed on each unit of donated blood – to establish the blood type and test for infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis.

  • Test results are transferred electronically to the manufacturing facility within 24 hours

  • If a test result is positive, the unit is discarded and the donor is notified. Test results are confidential and are only shared with the donor, except as may be required by law

Steps 2 and 3 take place at the same time

The test tubes are received in one of three Red Cross National Testing Laboratories

A dozen tests are performed on each unit of donated blood – to establish the blood type and test for infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis.

Test results are transferred electronically to the manufacturing facility within 24 hours

If a test result is positive, the unit is discarded and the donor is notified. Test results are confidential and are only shared with the donor, except as may be required by law

Step 4 – Storage

  • When test results are received, units suitable for transfusion are labeled and stored

  • Red Cells are stored in refrigerators at 6ºC for up to 42 days

  • Platelets are stored at room temperature in agitators for up to five days

  • Plasma and cryo are frozen and stored in freezers for up to one year

When test results are received, units suitable for transfusion are labeled and stored

Red Cells are stored in refrigerators at 6ºC for up to 42 days

Platelets are stored at room temperature in agitators for up to five days

Plasma and cryo are frozen and stored in freezers for up to one year

Step 5 – Distribution

  • Blood is available to be shipped to hospitals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Blood is available to be shipped to hospitals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

A healthy donor may donate red blood cells every 56 days or about 6 times per year and can donate platelets as few as 7days apart, but a maximum of 24 times per year.  For about 8 hours of time per year, you can give the gift of life by donating blood.  It is a great way to volunteer and help your community.  To find a local blood drive or American Red Cross donation center, contact the Greater Rochester Chapter of the American Red Cross at  50 Prince Street, Rochester, NY 14607, Phone: (585) 241-4400 or the Clara Barton Chapter #1, 57 Elizabeth Street, Dansville, NY 14437, Phone: (585) 335-3500.

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.  

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