You often give a part of yourself by supporting a cause. This month, this concept takes a literal turn.
January is National Blood Donor Month, and according to the American Red Cross, “Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.” Here is what you need to know about blood donations and what you can do to save lives.
A bit about blood
Detailed by medlineplus.gov, blood is a mixture of a liquid and solids. Plasma, the liquid, makes up over half of your blood and consists of water, salts and proteins. Red and white blood cells, as well as platelets, contribute to the solid portion of blood.
According to Oneblood, a “not-for-profit 501(c)(3) community asset responsible for providing safe, available and affordable blood,” blood carries life-essential substances like nutrients and oxygen to our cells and takes away waste products from those cells. According to MedlinePlus, red blood cells carry oxygen to your organs and tissues, while white blood cells support the immune system. Platelets clot the blood to help seal wounds or cuts.
The Blood Bank of Hawai‘i states that blood cannot be manufactured outside of the body; therefore, blood donors play a vital role in ensuring the health of those needing blood transfusions or who suffer other ailments, which include but are not limited to “cancer, heart and blood vessel disease,” and “emergencies such as accidents.”
Knowing your blood type
While the need for blood is shared among all humans, not all blood is the same. According to the American Red Cross, there are four types of blood: A, B, AB, and O. Differences between types are caused by the presence or absence of the antigens A and B on red blood cells. Positive and negative blood types are determined by the presence (positive) or absence (negative) of the “Rh factor,” a protein.
Knowing one’s blood type is important with blood transfusions, as certain blood types are not compatible with others. When incompatible blood types mix, the presence or absence of certain antigens can trigger an immune system response, causing the body to attack transfused blood.
Those with blood type A can donate to others with the same blood type, or those with AB blood. Those with blood type B can donate to others with blood type B, or AB. AB blood types can only donate to other ABs, but can receive from any blood type. Blood type O negative is the universal donor, which means those with that blood type can give to all other blood types.
When it comes to plasma, Rh-positive or negative blood can be given to Rh-positive blood. However, Rh-negative blood types can only receive Rh-negative blood. AB blood types are the universal plasma donor.
The Blood Bank of Hawai‘i hosts weekly blood drives at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. You can also donate at our local blood donation center, located on 1907 Young St.
The American Red Cross lists four types of blood donation: whole blood, power red, platelet and plasma.
Whole blood donations are the most flexible type of donation because you are giving blood in its original form. Whole blood donations can be transfused in this form, or be broken down to help those who need specific parts of blood, such as platelets or red blood cells. To give this type of donation, the American Red Cross states that you must be at least 16 years old (in most states), weigh at least 110 pounds, and be in good health. That is, you feel well and can perform normal activities. This process takes about an hour to complete.
Power red donations take a concentrated dose of red blood cells, which are separated from the plasma and platelets through an automated process; your plasma and platelets are returned to you. The ideal blood types for this donation include O-positive and -negative, A-negative and B-negative. Along with feeling well, male donors must be at least 5’1” tall and weigh 130 pounds. Most males 17 years and older can donate in most states. Females must be at least 19 years old (in most states), be at least 5’5” tall and weigh 150 pounds. This type of donation will take about 1.5 hours.
Platelet donations take the longest to complete; about 2.5 to 3 hours. An apheresis machine will take your platelets and some plasma from your body, but return most of the plasma and red blood cells. This type of donation can only be performed at Red Cross donation centers, with ideal blood types being A-positive and -negative, B-positive, O-positive, and AB-positive and -negative. One must be at least 17 years old (in most states) and weigh 110 pounds.
Lastly, plasma donations are conducted through an automated process that separates plasma from the rest of the blood. This process takes about one hour and 15 minutes, with the ideal blood types being AB-positive or -negative. Like the platelet donation, donors must be at least 17 years old and weigh 110 pounds.
Eligibility will vary on a case-by-case basis. The American Red Cross mentions that common reasons one cannot donate include taking certain medications, medical conditions, low iron levels and travel outside of the U.S. due to possible exposure to malaria, ebola or zika. Be sure to know your eligibility by researching on your own, or inquiring at a blood drive or donation center. Online resources include the BBH’s “Blood Donor Educational Materials” PDF. If you do not meet all the eligibility requirements, you can volunteer, host a blood drive or ask an eligible donor to give on your behalf.
The donation process
According to BBH, when you prepare to donate blood, be sure you bring a photo ID with birth date. You should also keep yourself hydrated and get enough rest. You should also know where you travelled outside of the U.S. and the duration, as well as what medical conditions you have and the amount of medications you are taking.
When you arrive, you will be given a questionnaire to fill out, followed by a mini physical. This includes checking your blood pressure, temperature and hemoglobin level. Prior to collecting your blood, you will be asked about your medical history. Then, a sterile, disposable needle will be used to take your blood. After waiting a few minutes, you may eat a snack before leaving. You will want to eat hearty meals with iron-rich foods and stay hydrated to help your body recover from the loss of blood.
Avoid smoking or drinking for at least 30 minutes after your donation, and do not partake in strenuous activities for 24 hours. If you feel strange or unwell after leaving, it is advised to call the Blood Bank’s nursing services at (808) 845-4745. Also, if you catch a cold or flu a few days after your donation, you must notify the Blood Bank so they can recall your donated blood if possible and not use it.