What to Know About Blood Donation

Are you interested in donating blood, but you are unsure what to expect? Before donating blood, it may be helpful to understand the process as a whole and why donating blood is so important.

Why is blood donation so important?

Well, as Brooke Spinneweber, Blood Bank Supervisor, explains, “There is no man-made substitute. If there are no donors, then there is no blood.” Experts have experimented and attempted to create a substitute, but they do not hold up to the real thing. The only way to help people who are in need of a blood transfusion is to acquire blood from donors.

When someone donates 500 milliliters of whole blood it can save up to three lives. Whole blood is collected during a standard blood donation and it consists of all of the components that make up blood. Not only are professionals able to utilize the whole blood that is donated, but they can also separate the whole blood into different components that a patient may need. You can choose to donate just one of these components or the whole blood that you donate can be broken down into packed red cells, platelets, and plasma. All of these components can be utilized to help different patients. For example, platelets are often used to help oncology patients because chemotherapy can destroy the platelets within a patient’s bloodstream.

The ongoing issue that healthcare professionals face—and the reason why blood donation is always needed—is that blood has an expiration date. “Platelets are only good for five days after donation, which makes them expensive and hard to come by,” explains Brooke. Packed red blood cells made from whole blood last for a longer period of time but eventually expire 42 days after donation. Not only does blood expire, but the human body can only safely donate whole blood once every 56 days.

Blood Donor Eligibility

Blood donation will always be in high demand, but that does not mean that blood donation specialists are willing to risk the safety of patients and donors. Therefore there are basic eligibility requirements that all donors must meet, including:

  • Donors must weigh at least 110 pounds.
  • Donors must be in good health.
  • Donors cannot be under the influence of recreational drugs or alcohol when donating.
  • Donors must wait eight weeks between blood donations.
  • Donors must be aged 16 or older. Donors under the age of 18 must have signed permission from a parent or guardian. ID must be brought to the donation center and it must have one of the following: date of birth, donor ID number, or your photo.
  • It is also highly recommended that donors eat within two hours before donation and drink plenty of water during the day or two leading up to the donation.

There are many things that can prohibit or defer you from donating blood. For example, certain surgeries, medications, and travel can result in deferment.

The Blood Donation Process

If you meet all of these requirements, you are eligible to donate blood, which begins when you check in for your appointment. After the check-in process, you will be asked to complete a Donor History Questionnaire and meet with a blood donor professional to complete a wellness exam. This step ensures that you are well and healthy enough to donate. It is important that your hemoglobin levels, temperature, and blood pressure are within a normal range to ensure your safety and the safety of the blood recipients.

If the results of the questionnaire and wellness exam meet the requirements for blood donation, you will then be taken back to get your blood drawn. The specialist will begin by cleaning the area on your arm where they draw the blood. Once the needle is inserted, some of your blood will be collected for testing to confirm it is safe to be given to patients in need. This testing is performed by Vitalant after the donor collection process, but prior to blood products being transfused.

You will then proceed with the blood donation. This process generally takes between 10-15 minutes. After you have finished donating blood, you will be given refreshments to help replenish fluids and nutrients within your body.

Where Can You Donate Blood?

Vitalant is an organization that collects and distributes blood and blood products. They work directly with St. Clair Health to provide our patients with blood and to collect blood donations from the members of our community. Vitalant holds a blood drive at St. Clair Health twice a month for all community members. You can also find other locations by going to vitalant.org and clicking on the words “Donate Now” at the top of the website. You can enter your zip code to find a location to donate blood near you. From there you can look at availability and book an appointment online. Vitalant is also a great resource to utilize and learn more about the blood donation process and its requirements.