Mommy, Where Does Blood Come From?

Well honey, I’m glad you asked — The Oregonian has everything you need to know about the blood supply chain.

Reporter Andy Dworkin wrote a very comprehensive article that appeared in today’s paper. While the “news hook” was the July 4 blood drives, Andy seized the opportunity to talk about the donation process and how blood gets from your arm to patients in the hospital.

Here are just a few of the steps in the two-day process. To see them all, read the article:

  • Donating: A phlebotomist props a donor’s arm on a metal stand, cleans a prominent vein with iodine and soap, and inserts a needle. A bandage is applied after the bag tips a scale at about 1.35 pounds, roughly a pint. This usually takes about 10 minutes.
  • R&R: Volunteers escort donors a few feet to a snack area, give them a drink and seat them at tables of cookies and other munchies.
  • Spin and press: Lab workers gently shake each bag to release gas bubbles, then put six units in a centrifuge. The centrifuge spins the blood at high speed for 12 minutes, forcing the heavier red cells to the bottom.
  • Cold storage: Bags of red cells enter a refrigerator set at 39 degrees.
  • Testing: Tubes of blood destined for testing are driven to a lab near the airport. The lab checks each donor’s blood type and looks for antibodies to HIV, hepatitis B and C, and microbes that can cause Chagas’ disease or a kind of leukemia.
  • Plasma processing: Once cleared by testing, bags of frozen plasma thaw in a cold water bath for about two hours, until they’re slushy.
  • Shipping: Finished blood and plasma units sit in chillers, sorted and labeled by blood type. Newer donations are usually driven by volunteers or couriers to smaller hospitals that use less blood. Older donations with shorter shelf life are sent to busy hospitals that can use the blood before it expires.

To get back to July 4, Steve Stegeman, CEO of the Red Cross Pacific Northwest Regional Blood Services, notes that summer is a tough time because colleges and high schools, popular blood drive sites, go out of session. Additionally, regular blood donors go on vacation and miss a donation. Around Independence Day, people don’t want to give blood when they’re hosting a party or heading out of town, so the Red Cross runs short on blood (particularly Type O) while demand stays steady at about 5,000 pints a week.

What does that mean for you? Consider making an extra donation before you go on vacation, and don’t forget to participate on Friday!